Syr­ian sur­prise at aid from ‘worst en­emy’


I’M SHOWN a child refugee’s draw­ing of the jour­ney to Europe. It’s graphic, with peo­ple drowned on the way. An­other de­picts a Daesh be­head­ing.

“Ex­pres­sion can re­lieve stress,” says Yo­tam Polizer, di­rec­tor of Is­raAID’s field work, as we walk through a huge refugee re­cep­tion cen­tre in Moabit, a neigh­bour­hood of Ber­lin.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple mill around, wait­ing. First they need to be is­sued a num­ber; next, they have to wait un­til it comes up. Only then can they reg­is­ter. Every­where, char­i­ties have set up tents. There’s also food, and an X-ray clinic to check for TB.

As well as as­sist­ing in Ger­many, which is ab­sorb­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees, Is­raAID is al­ready ac­tive in Greece, Croa­tia, Kur­dis­tan and Jor­dan.

Mr Polizer tells me: “We’ve two teams on Les­bos. An is­land of 85,000 peo­ple, it’s had 100,000 refugees ar­rive in a sin­gle month. One team is med­i­cal; they stay above the beach, watch­ing the boats ar­rive, then run to where they are needed. Boats come in at night. Rub­ber boats for 20 peo­ple bring in 50 or 60. There are many cases of shock and hy­pother­mia.

“The UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees asked us to be a fo­cal point for vic­tims of ship­wrecks, be­cause of our ex­pe­ri­ence with trauma. Many have lost their chil­dren; they stay un­til the bod­ies are found. There’s no Mus­lim burial on the is­land. We try to ac­com­pany those fam­i­lies, of­ten for one or two months.”

Back at the re­cep­tion cen­tre, Mr Polizer points out the pho­tos on the walls: miss­ing per­sons, about whom rel­a­tives long for news; wanted per­sons, too. There are peo­ple from all over, he tells me; Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Africa, Chech­nya, Kosovo. Many get tem­po­rary leave to re­main; Syr­ian refugee in Jor­dan with an aid pack­age oth­ers get de­por­ta­tion or­ders.

He says: “The big gap we’ve iden­ti­fied is psy­choso­cial. In Ger­many our fo­cus will be mainly mid- and longterm. Ex­perts come from Is­rael as vol­un­teers for sev­eral weeks, pro­vid­ing train­ing and sup­port. They’ll work side by side with the Ger­mans.’

A par­tic­u­lar area of Is­raAID’s ex­per­tise is its work with vic­timised women. Chris­tian and Mus­lim Is­raelis from Nazareth and Galilee come, Jewish Is­raelis, Be­douin. There are few trauma ex­perts from else­where who speak Ara­bic. “Syr­i­ans are sur­prised, then glad, Is­raelis are help­ing them,” Mr Polizer ex­plains. “One Syr­ian doc­tor said: ‘My worst en­emy has be­come my big­gest sup­porter; the peo­ple sup­posed to pro­tect me chased me away.’ It’s a chance to build bridges.”

Last week Is­raAID hosted shadow home sec­re­tary Yvette Cooper on Les­bos. It would wel­come vol­un­teers with ap­pro­pri­ate skills and sup­port from the UK too. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit: is­

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