13 May 2016

THE Salvation Army has been assisting refugees across Europe since the current crisis escalated in 2015. Traumatised people fleeing their homes due to conflict and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and other locations are arriving in European ports and cities in unprecedented numbers. The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters Communications Secretary Major Brad Halse travelled to Germany and Norway with a film crew from the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland.

The team found that The Salvation Army’s ministry is growing and is being sincerely appreciated by the migrants who have had to leave everything they held dear. Their stories are documented in a 15-minute feature for the territory’s LINK video magazine, which has also been published on the International Headquarters website.

Captain Matthias Lindner has heard harrowing accounts of refugees’ experiences as he distributes hot food and drinks in freezing temperatures in the German capital Berlin. ‘They are waiting to be transferred to the refugee centres,’ he explains. ‘When we ask how they came here … people start crying. They tell us stories which are really shocking – talking about their homes [being] destroyed, war … it’s horrible.’

‘We give them tea, but also hope – it’s really important,’ he adds.

Two hours away in Leipzig, The Salvation Army has also been looking for ways to help the city’s new residents. One initiative is an emergency furniture store, where new arrivals can furnish their homes at a very low cost. It’s staffed by volunteers who, in some cases, are refugees themselves. The team met Fatima, originally from Kosovo. ‘We are here every day,’ she says with a smile. ‘Every day we have visitors, refugees. I speak five languages – that’s why I’m helping here.’

Meanwhile, Souhail – a Syrian refugee – illustrated exactly why he’d had to flee his home country, by showing the film crew a photo of his house before the conflict and the ruins of the building now. He’s now living in a small flat found by The Salvation Army. 

The situation is similar in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Petra Kjellén Brooke from The Salvation Army’s Norway, Iceland and The Færoes Territorial Headquarters explains: ‘We saw that people didn’t have a place to stay. It was obvious there weren’t enough beds. We were contacted by the [government’s] immigration department and asked to help.’

The Salvation Army had just bought an old building for which planning permission was being sought to convert it into retirement homes. It was quickly repurposed and reopened as a temporary accommodation centre for 250 refugees. But how to resource it? ‘We put out on Facebook for volunteers,’ explains Petra. ‘Over one weekend we’d had 250 offers of help – we couldn’t have done it without them. The centre now provides food, accommodation, a drop-in health clinic, well-being and therapeutic activities.

Major Poldi Walz (Divisional Commander, North-East Germany) concedes that some European residents became afraid of the potential for an influx of refugees overwhelming them. But he counters this by suggesting that it’s actually ‘widening our view’. He says: ‘It’s not only housing them – they give something back. It enriches us. We are no longer strangers. They become a part of our family. We, as Christians, should be willing to accept these people, to help them.’

Tags: Europe, Emergencies, Refugees in Europe