Red Cross staff and volunteers assist migrants on their arrival in Europe

Thousands of people are making the perilous crossing from the southern shores of the Mediterranean to Europe—signalling the greatest migration crisis to affect sourthern Europe in decades.

World Disasters Report

World Disasters Report

Focus on local actors, the key to effective humanitarian action

By Damien Naylor, IFRC in Sicily

Thousands of people are making the perilous crossing from the southern shores of the Mediterranean to Europe—signalling the greatest migration crisis to affect sourthern Europe in decades. For those that make it to Italy, the first words of comfort they are likely to be from local staff and volunteers.

In the port city of Catania, the Italian Red Cross deployed a team of 21 staff and volunteers with a field hospital, complete  with treatment, isolation and distribution centres. On the morning of the team’s first operation, 220 migrants arrived. Italian officials and health inspectors boarded the incoming boat and soon a group of women disembarked and were assessed by the Red Cross health team. Immediate needs – water, food, shoes – were taken care of while passengers waited to be seen by doctors.

Within three hours, the passengers were screened and accompanied to the Mineo camp one hour from the port. The camp was originally designed to host 2,000 but is now home to 4,000 people.

While world leaders debate the best course of action, local staff and volunteers are on the ground providing emergency health care and first aid, food and other essential items, psychosocial and emotional support, and assist in reconnecting families through the Red Cross`s restoring family links program (RFL).

According to Andrea Pettini, head of tracing and restoring family links for the Italian Red Cross, the day’s operation was regarded as medium sized. “Some days we’ll see over 600 people arriving, often in poor conditions and at all times of the day and night,” she said.

Simona Migliore, overseeing the medical element of the operation, said that the daily arrivals were stressful for both the people crossing the sea and the volunteers “It’s important for us to show our support  to and empathize with the migrants coming to Europe,” she said. “They have been through a lot and are often traumatized by their experiences.”

National Societies ensure that their volunteers are properly prepared to carry out their work, providing them with training and equipment, and appropriate psychosocial support when required. This ensures that vulnerable migrants are met not only with humanitarian good will, but also with the technical skill to provide the specific care and assistance they need.

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Red Cross staff and volunteers assist migrants on their arrival in Europe