Delivering aid to the people freezing in the Balkans

From Martin currently delivering aid to refugees in Serbia.

I really feel the need to tell all the Re-Act supporters just what a huge difference you have all made to those refugees stranded all across Europe. Re-Act have financially supported so many of my trips to deliver aid and in most cases have quite literally DOUBLED the amount of help I have been able to provide to those who are most in need.

I am no stranger to the Balkans and previously I have managed to operate with some considerable success. This trip is entirely different though. Serbia is a very difficult place in which to operate as an aid volunteer. In fact, it’s the one place where being ‘independent’ is so much more effective than being tied into an NGO or large aid group and being expected to play ‘within the rules’.

The Serb authorities, like most other European governments, want every refugee in an official reception centre or camp. The problem with this is that the Serbs have a very bad track record of illegally deporting them and because of this many refugees would rather take their chances on the streets – even in the bitterly cold Balkan winter weather.

A week ago the weather in Serbia was terrible. Huge snowfall and a temperature of -20 degrees made surviving on the streets incredibly hard for the refugees stuck there. I won’t mince my words – temperatures like this for people living in such poor conditions is a very real threat to life.

I came home from work after thinking about nothing but the refugee situation in Serbia all day and, within 20 minutes had decided I was going down there again, I had recruited a pal into coming down there with me – and then I told him that we couldn’t do it without his Landrover!

After starting a very panicked fundraiser to purchase food stuffs for distribution while I was down there, Re-Act stepped up to the plate yet again! With the donation from Re-Act I was able to purchase even more ex-military arctic grade sleeping bags and a large quantity of thermal hats, scarves and gloves. I had seen photos in the media of refugees queuing for a daily hot meal in some areas of Belgrade wrapped in just a blanket – these sleeping bags are of the type used by Royal Marines in Norway on their winter deployments – these are a seriously good piece of kit and probably the one single thing, in the case of a lack of fire for warmth, that could stop someone from dying in their sleep (if, of course, they were able to sleep in those temperatures!).

So, with the items we already had to take with us, the additional stuff purchased thanks to the Re-Act donation and the generosity of your supporters, – and donations I had received to buy food for distribution when we got here, we set off on a 1,300 mile drive which would see us travel through 7 countries and be intimidated by some very large trucks driven by some very aggressive Romanian drivers as we travelled through the tunnels of the Alps!

Now we’re here. We met up again with a very nice family who assisted us on one of our previous trips. They have been tirelessly doing what they can for refugees since the ‘Balkan route’ first became a bottleneck and with very limited funds and resources at their disposal.

We are in the North of the country – trying to ‘work’ an area between Šid and Subotica. We decided against Belgrade due to the fact that there is already aid being given there – albeit severely limited. There is also help being given in Subotica but it is patchy.

Our ‘host’ family took us to an abandoned school building where there are a group of about 40 refugees. Mostly teenagers/young men but including 6 women and 3 children under 11. The youngest of these is 7.

They have nothing but the ragged clothes they are wearing, a couple of UNHCR type blankets each and a few bits & bobs.

We gave out most of our sleeping bags to them and ensured that they each have a thermal hat and gloves. The blankets they had were as good as useless and the only benefit they were giving, if any, was one of psychological value with the idea that if they were wrapped up in them then they could ‘think’ that they were warmer. The school has been stripped of anything even remotely useful and anything that could burn has already been used on their makeshift fires which, crazily, they had lit in the centre of the room that most of them are occupying.

We’ve done a fair bit in the short time we have been here. We have helped to tidy the place up a bit, we’ve managed to lay our hands on some pallets which are being broken up and used as fire fuel, and we’ve managed to fashion some stoves/heaters using old car wheels.

We initially provided food parcels containing tinned fish, loaves of bread, fresh fruit, vegetables, fruit juice and water – but now we have the fires/stoves sorted out we knew we had to ensure a way for the refugees to cook not only their own meals but the meals that they actually like!

So, late this afternoon I put out a shout on facebook for a little bit more help. We want to buy some pots/pans to be used on the new fires/stoves. On the open fires that they have been using they have been trying to boil water in old tin cans – many of which originally held chemicals of one description or another and pose unbelievable risks to their health – not to mention the burns that they have inflicted upon themselves by trying to pick up a very thin tin full of scolding water with fingers they can barely feel and that are very close to getting frost-bitten!

Re-Act responded to that shout out for help almost within minutes! We are now in a position to ‘go shopping’ tomorrow for large saucepans and cooking pots which will drastically change the quality of life for these people. We are also planning to purchase some hot water bottles if we can find some.

Typically, the weather has got marginally better down here since I decided to drop everything, annoy my boss, upset my wife and disappoint my kids (joking! – about the wife and kids anyway!) with news of my last minute trip. But the temperatures are still very low. Overnight this week it is hitting about -5 degrees and it is forecast to go down to -8 toward the end of the week. -8 degrees is bloody cold by our standards (although maybe not to you Scots!) so I know for a fact that these sleeping bags are going to be the difference between life and death as the Balkan winter progresses. With the provision of decent cooking pots with bottoms thick enough to withstand the extreme heat of these stoves, and hot water bottles to tuck inside their new ‘Gucci’ sleeping bags – I am certain we are providing a better chance of survival than any other form of aid which they are likely to be given this winter.

This is all down to Re-Act and the generosity of your supporters. No matter what they do, how small their donation, no matter how insignificant they think what they are doing is in the big picture of things, it’s important that they know that it’s because of them that I am down here doing what I am doing right now. The refugees receiving these life saving gifts are incredibly grateful, but at this point they only know that some people, somewhere in the UK (I will try to explain about that funny place at the top called ‘Scotland’! ) cares enough about them to try and make a difference! That in itself is amazing!

I will provide more of an update, hopefully with the use of a PC, an edit button and a spell checker upon my return. In the meantime I want to thank you all so much. Thank you for your ongoing support, thank you for your love, your messages of support and most of all, for allowing me to be here doing this on your behalf!

Photos ©AFP/CNN

November Donation Day, Sunday 27th

Our next donation day will be Sunday 27th of November 12-7pm, Studio 24.
24-26 Calton Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8DP

2nd-truckWe are now collecting WINTER clothing.
Click here for full list.

Our truck is packed and ready for its second trip to Greece!
Thanks for all your kind donations lots of jackets, sleeping bags, tents, warm clothes and baby and kids items. Including lots of teddies which makes me so happy as know it’ll bring lots of smiles and they are light;)

To donate directly to our Truck Fundraiser please click here.

Thank you for your continued support!

Volunteer Shout Out Nov 27th

Volunteers are required for our Edinburgh Donation Day on Sunday 27th Nov, and for further packing & sorting on Mon 28th & Tues 29th (possibly Wed, TBC).

1st Shift   11.00 – 14.00
2nd Shift  13.45 – 16.45
3rd Shift   16.30 – 19.30

We’ve had many Sunday signups already, are still in need of some additional volunteers, especially shifts 1 and 3, and there are still plenty of slots for Mon & Tues available currently.

Please sign up via the form below if you are available, indicating your preferred shift. We’ll finalise the rota in the coming days.

It might happen that there is not enough space to accommodate everyone who offers to help, but don’t worry – there will be other opportunities to get involved & your willingness to get involved is sincerely appreciated!


Donation Day October 30th

Our next donation day will be Sunday 30th of October, 12-7pm, Studio 24.
24-26 Calton Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8DP

We’ll be looking for volunteers to help on the day, and for the following day to sort donations.
Click here to sign up please!

We are now collecting WINTER clothing.

With the Jungle camp in Calais being shutdown early this week if specific items are requested we will do further updates.

Thank you for your continued support!

To donate directly to our Truck Fundraiser please click here.

Vote for Re-Act

Re-Act is seeking funds from the Aviva Community Fund, please register and vote for us.

The Aviva Community Fund offers the chance for local community projects to win funding because together we can do more for the causes you care about.

Look for projects in your area and help them get to the finals by voting for them!

You have to register to vote, but you get 10 votes to use how you want.

Volunteer shout out! Sunday October 30th

For the next Donation Day on Sunday October 30th we will need lots of lovely volunteers!
We will also be looking for help after the event, if you’re available Monday, or Tuesday please tell us by using the form below on this webpage.
(We use the webpage form to keep all the info together rather than scattered over several Facebook posts)

We will be running three shifts on the day, please indicate which shifts you can do in the Comment box.
1st Shift   11.00 – 14.00
2nd Shift  13.45 – 16.45
3rd Shift   16.30 – 19.30
And if you’re free Monday or Tuesday
(We will email you on Sunday night with the plans)

Thank you!

Truck arrives in Samos

Our truck has arrived in Samos today full of essential aid, medical supplies, books and toys to help those currently living in the camp.

Well done to everyone that supports us! This would not be possible without you all!

Our awesome team over there will be writing a blog of their trip and keeping us updated if we can help in any other way.

If you have a 7.5ton truck license, have experience driving abroad and can volunteer to take aid on our behalf please fill in this wee form!

Much love xxx

14691008_10154105405392956_8151797000297425838_n 14681746_10154105405442956_7062132511351306532_n 14610875_10154105405402956_8169527695083885220_n 14570414_10154105405552956_6365824734057846633_n 14556814_10154105405647956_3526828140374332838_o

Evening News Story on our Truck Fundraiser


The Edinburgh Evening News has written about our Truck Fundraiser.

Fundraising website is here:


A GRASSROOTS charity set up in the wake of the refugee crisis a year ago has launched a drive to raise £25,000 to fund a truck to send donations of clothes and goods to camps in Europe. Edinburgh-based Re-Act, which was launched by a group of friends following the news of people from war-torn countries including Syria and Iraq landing on beaches in Greek islands after risking their lives in the Aegean Sea, has so far shipped 600 tonnes of clothing to people living in refugee camps in mainland Europe. Now the organisation needs to buy a truck to cut back on the high costs of transporting the goods in a shipping container. A volunteer who recently spent time helping refugees on the beaches in Greece has paid for the truck up front, but the organisation needs to repay the cost. The group, which collects donations from the public at its base at Studio 24 – the Calton Road nightclub run by Re-Act’s co-founder Gill McArthur – says the truck will allow them to reach crisis-hit areas in three or four days and will cost around one-sixth of the price of a container delivery. Currently, shipping containers cost around £5000 per shipment and can take up to six weeks to arrive at their destination. Ms McArthur, who has travelled to Europe to help refugees on a number of occasions, said: “We have been delivering aid, paying other transport companies for a year and costs are huge. We started this after seeing pleas for help and a need for certain things, so we collect the aid as soon as we can, but sometimes delivery can take over two months. “This way, if an area is in crisis, if we have aid we can leave immediately and not wait until we have enough to fill a container. Also, having a truck helps deliver larger items like furniture to families arriving here in Scotland at very little cost.” She added: “This crisis isn’t getting smaller or better anytime soon and as we are in a position to help and keep collecting – now we can ensure we carry on and do more.” An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011, while people in other countries including Iraq and Afghanistan are also trying to escape persecution in their home countries.

Read more at: