With the onset of cold, wet weather, the journey for vast numbers of refugees making the long trek from the Greek Islands to their desired destinations in Western Europe had become even more treacherous and miserable. Bottlenecks at borders between countries meant many were sleeping out in the open, exposed to the elements, with little respite during the day as well. Operation Mercy emergency relief responders on the ground in Northern Macedonia told of seeing shivering women and children and they believed that many were at risk of suffering from hypothermia.
All across Europe, local and international NGOs were cooperating to relieve some of the physical and emotional stresses experienced by refugees throughout this arduous journey. After consultation with other groups, Operation Mercy began operating a tea station in Tabanovce, a village in the wild north of Macedonia, on the Serbian border. Working together with host community volunteers, Operation Mercy served hot tea to steady streams of refugees in desperate need of relief from the cold.
Operating out of a heated tent in the family rest area, this service not only provided warmth, it created a normal fabric for social interaction and a chance for people to be seen as people in the midst of this mass crisis. David Dyer, the director of Operation Mercy Macedonia, explained that the enclosed space avoided sparking off swarms that can happen as crowds of people seeking relief disembark from trains. “It also gave us an opportunity to interact and explore meeting other needs, [such as] scarves, gloves, hats, nappies and ponchos or thick garbage bags for the rain,” said Dyer. “And those in need of medical attention were directed to the neighbouring Red Cross and Terre Des Hommes tents.”
Thanks to Macedonian volunteers, the team was able to maintain a daily presence in a key location in the camp in this border village; however, with trains full of refugees pulling into Tabanovce all through the night, there was a need for this station to operate around the clock. “It was the time to act,” reports Dyer, “This kind of intervention saved lives.”