Since August 2013, thousands of Syrian and now Iraqi asylum seekers have arrived in Bulgaria via Turkey. The influx of asylum seekers into Bulgaria has been a challenge to the local authorities, which have never had to absorb such a substantial numbers of asylum seekers.
Bulgaria hastily erected camps that did not meet basic living conditions, let alone meet their needs. The buildings were derelict and despite attempts by the local authorities to paint and renovate, the asylum seekers lived in crowded conditions. Old sheets hung from laundry lines formed cubicle walls, that did not give each family any real privacy.
Many of the refugees, of which one-third are children, live in these camps. One of them, an abandoned elementary school in Voenna Rampa, is a grey, forlorn industrial zone in the northern suburbs of Sofia. Here Shai Fund met more than 800 asylum seekers from the war.
They grab a translator and pour out their hearts to us. Stories of desperation, of perilous flight and of walking pregnant for days to escape Syria. They came, like the other three million that fled Syria desperate to escape the horrors of the civil war. The Turkish smugglers who took from them what little they had on their way out promised them that as soon as they set foot on EU soil, they would be on the road to the promised land: Germany. But they’re a long way from Germany.
And so they find themselves in Bulgaria, a country ill prepared to absorb them. Once they receive refugee status they are requested to leave the camps where what little they do have there is better than being unemployed and without health insurance. They are on their own.
We met one father with two sick children, no work and not able to pay for the treatment of the children. The mother wept as she explained that they don’t have work and they had to leave the camp. The children have leukemia and they cannot pay for the medicines. So the local hospital monitors their blood tests explaining how the children are deteriorating, but she can’t buy the medicine needed to intervene and stop what may end in the death of her children.
We first came to assist them with their daily living.
Project 1: Humanitarian Aid
Shai Fund partnered with service providers from the Bulgarian State Refugee Agency, Bulgarian Red Cross, IsraAid and B’nai B’rith Bulgaria to assist Syrian refugees in desperate need in Bulgaria. We bought bags of hygiene products, diapers, food (rice, lentils, oil, sugar, coffee etc.) and non-food items like toothpaste, shampoo, tooth brushes etc.
Project 2: Transitional Housing for Syrian Asylum Seekers Granted Status
In June 2014 Shai fund partnered with Operation Blessing International, ICEJ, and the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees to renovate transitional housing for refugees granted status. Transitional housing helps the families move from totally dependency in the camps, to where they can start becoming more independent and eventually moving out of the camp situation and into the towns and cities.
Working with the Bulgarian Refugee Camp in Sofia, Bulgaria, we furnished 27 family rooms and common spaces for refugees living in one of the main camps in Sofia, Bulgaria. Much needed utility items including rugs, shoe cupboards, large cooking pots and pans, trash cans, household cleaning products and refrigerators with freezers and many more items were provided to each family unit.
Project 3: Mental Health and Psycho-Social Services (MHPSS) Program January – August 2014
Shai Fund partnered with the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees, Bulgarian Red Cross, B’nei Brith Bulgaria and IsraAid to train local refugee professionals on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and practical tools of working through trauma. The program aimed to promote the resilience and wellbeing of families through the provision of post and preventive emergency psycho- social services. It provided urgent professional support in the form of capacity-building for the diverse groups responsible for refugee welfare and integration including:
- The Bulgarian Red Cross Refugee;
- The Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees
- Sofia City Social Welfare Department responsible for responding to refugees with refugee status for the purpose of integration;
- NGO representatives currently cooperating with the City of Sofia municipality on refugee matters.
A total of 98 professionals were trained in on Coping With Trauma and Ongoing Threat: The BASIC Ph Model/Expressive therapies.