“In these dramatic times in which wars and terrorism are spreading throughout the Middle East and Africa, millions of people are forced to flee and seek refuge in Europe,” said the Sovereign Order of Malta’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Boeselager. “Inspired by the principles of solidarity and the moral imperative to alleviate human suffering, the Order of Malta has redoubled its efforts to accept and offer first aid to the refugees,” the Grand Chancellor explained.
With its network of 80 thousand volunteers worldwide, its national associations and its relief corps, the Order of Malta is participating in the enormous efforts being made to offer medical care, accommodation and basic necessities to the thousands of people in flight.
The Order of Malta’s aid service in Hungary has tripled its efforts to give first aid to the refugees passing through the country in the attempt to reach other places in Europe. Since early August, volunteers have been deployed in the major train stations of Budapest, Győr and Szeged, on the border with Serbia. Here they provide medical care and in Budapest manage accommodation to tackle the emergency. At the request of the Hungarian government, at the beginning of September the Order of Malta’s assistance service also participated in refugee transport operations up to the Austrian border.
In Germany over 30 facilities throughout the country provide medical and legal assistance to asylum seekers. In 2014, about half the refugees present in Germany were assisted by special structures managed by the Order of Malta. Following the latest wave of arrivals the Order has stepped up its commitment and there are now some 70 operational emergency shelters that can house up to 50,000 refugees. There are 1,600 volunteers engaged in distributing basic necessities, tents and blankets. The Order’s volunteer doctors and nurses are helping the refugees arriving in the main railways stations from Berlin to Munich. In Munich, where just during the last weekend over 19,000 arrivals were registered, the Order of Malta was requested by the federal government to set up, together with its local humanitarian partners and the civil defence, a screening and communication centre to coordinate first aid, reception and accommodation for refugees.
Since the beginning of August, the Order of Malta’s Austrian assistance service has been offering medical care to hundreds of refugees housed in a temporary camp in Innsbruck, in the Tyrol. In Westbahnhof station in Vienna, the Order of Malta’s volunteers are providing medical first-aid to refugees arriving by train. Together with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Vienna, the Order is promoting lessons for learning German to aid integration and offers legal aid to asylum seekers. The same project is also underway in another refugee camp in Salzburg.
Besides medical and legal aid, the Order of Malta’s volunteers are also providing valuable social and psychological aid to the families of refugees and unaccompanied minors, in constant increase according to United Nations figures. This helps children and adolescents to integrate through sports activities and football matches.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in 2014 there was the greatest increase in the number of refugees worldwide. In 2014, over 270,000 migrants entered Europe through the Mediterranean. A trend that has increased in past years in the wake of conflicts and the difficult living conditions in numerous Central African and Middle Eastern countries.
The doctors and nurses of the Order of Malta’s Italian relief corps are continuing to operate on the Italian Navy and Coastguards’ vessels in the Strait of Sicily. Since 2008, these volunteers have been providing first-aid to the refugees crammed into unseaworthy boats arriving from North Africa and the Middle East. Since 1st January of this year, these doctors and nurses have spent almost 100,000 hours at sea.
Relief teams from the Order of Malta’s international agency, Malteser International, are also present in northern Iraq: since August 2014 they have treated some 45,000 wounded and distributed food and basic necessities to 10,000 persons. In Lebanon, where it is estimated there are presently some two million Syrian refugees, the Order of Malta runs numerous health and social centres where medical treatment and medicines are offered free of charge.