Comment: City reaches out with aid

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After hearing about 70 refugees being found dead in the back of a lorry whilst trying to make their way to safety from Syria I held a debate in Parliament on October 1.

I met with Neil and Ross Galbraith, from Glasgow The Caring City based in my Cathcart constituency, to discuss a shipment of aid to the Balkans, to support refugees who were attempting to enter the EU through Serbia.

I contacted Martin Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Wheatley Group to seek assistance. I was delighted when he agreed to a cash donation to help with shipping costs, and made a call to their 2,500 staff asking for donations of clothing. Four days later Ross and I collected the aid donated by the staff, an amazing two tons of clothes. A massive thanks to all those wonderful people who gave so generously.

The Caring City shipment was also assisted by a donation from the Scottish Government and I was pleased to join Minister for International Development, Humza Yousaf, in a visit to see the great work the volunteers of the Caring City are doing.

Ross and I travelled to Serbia to meet the 40 ft container of aid when it arrived for distribution.

It was clear that Serbia recognised their responsibility to the refugees travelling through their territory.

The volunteers on the ground were fantastic but there is a desperate need for more support, more aid is urgently required and more facilities put in place at border crossings such as Shid on the border between Serbia and Croatia. On the day we visited 8,500 people crossed at that one point, up from an average of 1000 a day.

Recent events suggest things are going to get worse for the families trying to escape from the war in Syria and other areas of conflict. On my trip I spoke to dozens of refugees, including a family that had a baby of two months literally wrapped in swaddling clothes and being carried in a bag. I was glad we were able to get them on the next available bus from the border travelling through Croatia.

Another group we spoke to consisted of five young men from Syria, a doctor, a mechanic, a student, a chef and ironically a Red Cross co-ordinator who was now himself a refugee. This group would be welcome additions to any country yet because of the language used by the Westminster Government and sections of our media they were scared away from considering coming to the UK.

Four were heading to Germany, as was almost every other person we spoke to, and the other young man, Saliem, was heading to Sweden to meet with his brother who was a doctor there. I gave Saliem and one of the young men travelling to Germany my card and I’m delighted to say Saliem emailed me on Saturday to say he’d arrived in Sweden safely.

I met with a number of elected officials in both Novi Sad and Serbia and they are hugely grateful for the assistance that Glasgow, indeed all of Scotland, has provided and they extend their thanks. However, they are struggling to cope with the enormity of the humanitarian challenge that lies before all of us.

Winter is coming! This is not just a catch phrase but the reality for the refugees travelling through the Balkans. We desperately need warm clothes and donations of cash to help get aid to them as soon as possible, before the temperature drops below zero.

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