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

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

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We need to raise £25,000 to pay for and keep the Re-Act Truck on the roads.

Please donate here:

Since September 2015, the volunteers at Re-Act (Refugee Action Scotland) have been collecting and delivering emergency aid items to refugee crisis areas in Europe and beyond. Over 600 tonnes of aid has been sent to Calais, Syria, Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe in convoys and shipping containers. Full inventories of everything we have sent are available here.


Shipping containers are not an efficient or sustainable means of delivering regular aid. They are expensive (up to £5,000 per shipment) and can take 4-6 weeks to arrive at their destination.

To solve this problem…

…we’re getting our very own TRUCK!

This means we can bypass expensive delivery firms and respond to aid shortages in a much quicker, cheaper and more efficient way.

We could reach crisis areas in as little as 3-4 days and with more regularity and flexibility also.

We need your help to make this possible!

With your generosity, we hope to raise £25,000 in total to cover the cost of the truck (£18,954) plus tax, insurance and other running costs.

Any leftover money from our total will go towards the fuel costs of our trips.

For example, at today’s prices:

£10 = trip from Edinburgh -> English/Scottish Border;

£100 = trip from Edinburgh -> Calais;

£350 = trip from Edinburgh -> Thessaloniki camp, northern Greece.

Every donation, no matter the amount, is appreciated in helping us to achieve this target.

Thank you!

Please donate here:

Artist request…

Hello My name is Kate and I am having an art exhibition in August in the Well Café, Nicolson Square (which part of Greenside venue for fringe). the exhibition is looking at emotive reactions to the refugee crisis. I have painted 9 paintings but am also looking for 6 short (min 3 lines and max A4 page) reactions of people who have been directly involved in helping refugees whether here in Edinburgh, in Calais, Greece etc. I need not long descriptions but almost first immediate impressions and feelings you had. They will be typed up and laminated and interspersed with the pictures. I don’t want long dense pages as they are in a café so they need to be able to be easily read by visitors and no swearing please.

Really want to raise awareness & make people empathise. The exhibition pictures are for sale, 20% of profit goes to the arts co operative I am part of and 20% goes to Re-Act, I have not factored in my working costs and have kept the price of the pictures down so they are more affordable so they are not gallery prices. I really hope some people can help. Ideally I need these before 22nd July. If you would like to talk to me or pop in and see me- I work in residence at The City of Edinburgh Methodist Church on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11th July. Also please feel free to contact me via the form below.

Thank you. Kate Christmas.

Thank you!

Team Re-Act would like to thank everyone who has helped with donations, both physical and monetary. We are especially grateful to the companies and individuals who have raised funds for us…

John Wilson from Meadows Massage who fund raised at the Meadows Festival, ASH Scotland, donation from Billy and Maureen Harris Edinburgh, donation for fuel from Marie Penmanship. And a big thank you to John at thesignco Kirkcaldy for designing and printing all the posters for free.


Our donation page is here.




Please if you have a sewing machine in good working order (we can get it serviced) we would love it to send to Lebanon and this is why…

A sewing machine helps lift a woman out of poverty and creates new jobs in her community. In Lebanon we are establishing a seamstress workshop for Syrian refugee women. There, the women will both learn the trade and produce garments that they can sell. In this way, they will all have the possibility to earn money and thus support their families. To a woman or girl in need in a country like a sewing machine you provide can be a doorway to a better life. The project will empower an orphaned teen, widow or wife so she can make a decent living as a seamstress to support herself and her family. Many women now are forced into prostitution to support their families and risk disease, sexual violence, degradation and being ostracised.

The project will involve setting up a micro-enterprise initiative for a women’s group in Lebanon’s impoverished Bekaa Valley, for the production and sale of sanitary towels and resuable nappies for children and adults to their immediate communities and surroundings villages. Right now, young girls and women cannot afford imported sanitary towels and are aid dependent for these and for nappies and incontinence wear. The goal of the project is to make available sanitary towels at low-cost prices to school-aged girls and women in the region and also to make goods which can be sold internationally online as an environmentally friendly alternative to disposal towels and nappies.

Existing Challenges:
The current practice is to use old rag cloths which cause leakages and present a high risk of infection. Due to possibility of leakages, the girls remain at home missing up to 1-1½ weeks every month of the year. This results in the girls falling behind in school work and ultimately dropping out of school. By dropping out of school, the girls are unable to complete their education and break the poverty cycle in their lives. Or the girls marry younger.

Unlike donated pads and nappies this project aims to create a degree of financial self-sufficiency and provide a long-term viable alternative to their current practice.

Empowering mothers and young girls: This project will generate additional sources of income resulting in some degree of financial independence for the women. Running a business builds confidence by enabling the women to take control and ownership of their lives. The women would become role models for their daughters and young girls in these communities.

Stimulate a micro-economy: The project will help stimulate a micro- economy in the communities through the sale of cloth sanitary towels thus generating income. These goods can also be marketed to rural health programs for female health and family planning which will require a commitment from other NGOs in related health programs such as the Female Health and Family Planning workshops.

Lebanon uses the same 220v voltage as the UK, and Europe. Plugs will be replaced after testing.