Those who help Ukraine refugees

They’re still escaping the war-ravaged country, but the millions of Ukrainians who have already crossed the border have now spread throughout Europe, with enormous challenges still in front of them. Escaping was only a beginning.

Sarah Scott Webb is one example of God’s provision for them as he brings together those with the right skills and contacts.

Sarah says this is the first refugee crisis response that has been led by members of the public. “It took 9-10 days before EU governments started doing something, but it was within hours that ordinary people, many of them from churches, were turning up at borders to help. Now it’s a matter of, how do we resource those ordinary people on the front lines?” Equipping churches and partners in Europe as they respond to the refugee crisis is a long haul and our support is needed.

Sarah is co-leader with Karine Woldhuis of SIM’s anti-trafficking ministry, For Freedom. She quickly began liaising with her contacts in the European Freedom Network (EFN) and has now been appointed Trauma Response lead for this coalition of evangelical anti-trafficking NGOs and churches.

In March when EFN released We Stand With You – a basic safety flier for refugees — within 12 hours Sarah was able to use contacts to find translators. For example, she discovered a professional Russian translator in her own church. Hundreds of thousands of these fliers in several languages have been distributed. Since then Sarah has been in working groups developing resources such as trauma response training for the churches who opened their doors to the refugees. Also, very soon it was realised that the volunteers needed selfcare seminars, to avoid burnout when the load becomes overwhelming — these are effects of the war in Ukraine which don’t make the news.

Alongside the good people offering hospitality are human traffickers. A Romanian colleague told Sarah that as she was handing out the trafficking prevention flier to women crossing the border from Ukraine, she felt the Lord point out a particular woman to go and talk to. Sarah says, “She handed over a flier, and also gave her a business card with her phone number on it. This woman was waiting for a bus, so she hopped on this bus to take her to safety.

“And after about 30 minutes my friend got a phone call from her saying, ’Help, the bus is taking us in a totally wrong direction and we don’t know what to do.’ My friend called the Romanian police, who managed to stop this bus full of Ukrainian women. How many other buses run by trafficking gangs have been successful?

“It’s widely known that human traffickers flock to crises like this, often posing as pastors or aid workers, looking legitimate but with nefarious intent. We knew as soon as this situation erupted that traffickers would be taking advantage. In the first few weeks a lot of this happened at the borders, but as the borders became more organised traffickers moved to train and bus stations throughout neighbouring countries. They are also using accommodation/ transport websites to recruit vulnerable refugees. EFN has a team working to ensure safeguards are in place and checking is done. Several suspect websites have been found.”

As a result of the quality of the resources the EFN network is developing, and the speed and breadth of their response, a group of 40 NGOs, such as Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam, have asked EFN to train their emergency response teams in trafficking prevention.

For Freedom is providing support to partners in Romania, for example they have covered rent and living costs for a Ukrainian refugee now serving as a translator and assistant. Karine has travelled to meet SIM leaders in Europe to discuss how For Freedom can provide longer-term support.  Funds have been sent to partners working in Bulgaria to accommodate two refugee families and cover living costs and counselling. Some extra funding will also be used to send emergency supplies into Ukraine.

Sarah’s role with EFN continues to develop, as their focus changes towards providing direct support to Ukrainians (both refugees and those who have stayed). The biggest request coming from churches there is for help in processing trauma. It’s hoped to send SIM’s Trauma Healing Coordinator Nancy Writebol to Romania later in the year as a trainer.

We are in this for the long, hard season that is coming.

Please pray:

• For all those churches and individuals who have stepped up to support the refugees, that they receive timely help to do this, and training in trauma response.

• That the gangs of human traffickers are unsuccessful, and vulnerable people have the wisdom and assistance to avoid them.