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Posted: May 25, 2019

Volunteers raise money for Mediterranean refugees

Perceptions, by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

The Mediterranean refugee crisis is not over and is seldom seen on the front pages anymore, but a support group in Cranbrook continues to provide aid for victims escaping the tragedy.

The Cranbrook Hub for Refugees, an ad hoc group of local citizens formed almost three years ago, held a fundraiser May 11 in the Colombo Hall that attracted 120 people and raised close to $4,000 for the cause.

And now that the fickle media, social and otherwise, has moved on to new stories you may have missed the horrific story two weeks ago that refugees and migrants – men, women and children – are drowning in the cruel Mediterranean at a faster rate than ever.

As you might have guessed almost all the victims are fleeing from the horrific refugee camps of the Middle East and Northern Africa as they have for the past five years or more. But in the digital world where time seems to be on steroids it’s easy to forget that so many people continue to drown in the Mediterranean, which has become the world’s Sea of Despair.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 117 migrants in two dinghies drowned on May 4 alone as they desperately tried to cross the stormy sea, which claimed 2,297 drowning victims in 2018 and is on track to claim even more this year.

“Another 117 lives lost. I hear many times  ‘never again.’ Yet, in reality, the tragedy continues and Mediterranean states cannot find a solution and support from other states,” United Nations Special Envoy Vincent Cochetel told the Aljazeera News Agency.

Until June 2018, Italy took in the vast majority of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean. But when a new anti-migrant, populist government was elected the same month, Italy stopped accepting migrants, returning most of them to Libya, which is against international law, says Cochetel. Conditions in the Libyan refugee camps are described as “horrific” by Human Rights Watch and the UN says refugees face abuse and torture in the squalid camps.

It’s a grim picture, but this didn’t stop Cranbrookians from opening up their hearts and wallets at the dinner/dance and silent auction that featured numerous donations from the local business community. In the past three years the Refugee Hub has sponsored two refugee families from Africa and is currently working on sponsoring a third.

Taking the podium at the event, Hub Chair Bonnie Spence-Vinge told the crowd, “as you are aware the depth and breadth of the refugee crisis globally is staggering United Nations High Commission on Refugees 2017 report states that over 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. 25.4 million are refugees, over half of whom are children under the age of 18.”

Refugees who make it to Cranbrook, receive six months of limited financial support from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, leaving the Hub to raise the majority of the money to support the family for their one-year stay. This includes getting the kids in school as well as language training for the entire family if necessary, helping with employment, child-care, clothing recreation, furnishing their home, transportation and medical expenses as well as emotional and personal support.

It’s a daunting task but one made easier by the tremendous volunteer support Hub has received and support from the business community which provided most of the items for the silent auction and has helped in the past with accommodation, transportation and many other forms of support, says Spence-Vinge.

Refugee representative, Mengistu, spoke highly of Hub when he appeared at a community information meeting in Cranbrook. “The committee members and supporters they take care of us. As a result, we had a good time to adjust from the miserable life to peaceful and stable life. I know you are doing very hard work but you have to keep on and continue because you are maintaining life that was broken.”

Thanks to the Cranbrook Hub for Refugees and the people of Cranbrook some of the brokenness experienced by the refugees during their long ordeal is finally being repaired.

(Anyone wanting more information on the Cranbrook Hub for Refugees can call Bonnie at: (250) 426-4274.

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