herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Charity worker is 'left stunned' by Syria crisis

Charlie Donnelly
Charlie Donnelly
Croatian police stand guard in front of migrants at the train station in Tovarnik, Croatia

aid officials are astonished at the courage and resilience shown by Syrian refugees involved in the greatest migrant crisis since World War Two, according to an Irish charity worker.

Charlie Donnelly of Concern was speaking as the Irish charity urgently began to expand its aid programme in Lebanon, close to the Syrian border, to cope with the escalating humanitarian crisis.

Donnelly, an architect from Rathgar in Dublin, admitted that having worked in Sierra Leone as part of the response to the Ebola crisis he thought he had seen the worst of such catastrophes.

But he admitted the sights on the Lebanon/Syria border now defy belief as tens of thousands of people daily flee the civil war in their homeland.

It is estimated that up to two million people are now displaced because of the war in Syria and northern Iraq.

Thousands of refugees and migrants have poured into Croatia from Serbia in a rush to get on limited buses and trains.

Croatian police said 9,200 migrants had entered the country by yesterday evening. Already groups of migrants were trying to cross into neighboring Slovenia and Hungary.

The Croatian prime minister said his country could not hold down migrants who wish to move on toward Western Europe.

Zoran Milanovic said that "our resources are limited." He adds that "we will not and cannot keep them in Croatia and no one will make us do that."

Hungary's foreign minister said the "state of crisis" declared earlier in some areas due to the large flow of migrants has been extended to a pair of southern counties as migrants have begun entering from Croatia.

Expansion

Donnelly is now based in Halba in north Lebanon and is overseeing the expansion of Concern operations to help the flood of Syrian refugees.

"We are working on a range of health, education and infrastructure projects in response to the refugee crisis," he told the Herald.

"I have been astonished and impressed by the humour, resilience and hospitality of a people in desperate and uncertain circumstances."

Donnelly is married to Statia, who is principal of the Liberties College in Dublin. The couple have three children.

Last year, Donnelly spent six months working for Concern in Sierra Leone and he was in Liberia for three months this year.

"People ask me why I am doing this? Why give up an architecture career in Dublin?

"I have always been interested in development and aid work and as work in Ireland slowed I decided to change direction.

"I was impressed by Concern and the work they do across the world helping the poor, disadvantaged and victims of disaster."

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