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Prince Edward County firefighter among volunteers helping refugees in Serbia

the County's Richard Campbell is part of the Canadian Rapid Response team deployed to Serbia

the County’s Richard Campbell is part of the Canadian Rapid Response team deployed to Serbia

While Prince Edward County has stepped up to welcome three Syrian refugee families, the County’s Richard Campbell is part of the Canadian Rapid Response team deployed to Serbia to help families crossing the border to seek relief from the violence and conflict.

Campbell, a firefighter with Hallowell’s division and a retired OPP Auxiliary member, has been in Prešovo for the past five weeks, with other GlobalMedic volunteers there since November.

On Wednesday, world leaders will be in Geneva and the success of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s drive to resettle 25,000 Syrians in just four months will be in the spotlight. The gathering is hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Regugees and aims to rally international support.

mapWith more than 4.2 million refugees having fled to Europe and surrounding countries, the streets of Serbian border town Prešovo are lined with families waiting to be registered for further travel into Europe. Hundreds more arrive daily.

The anguish and desperation is heartbreaking. The support, heartwarming.

Campbell has been a volunteer with GlobalMedic for almost a decade.

“I read a small ad in an emergency magazine while I was working with the Northbrook Ambulance Service years ago as a non-EMCA paramedic. It just piqued my interest.”

His first deployment was to Pakistan after the big flood to help provide clean water and to set up large shelters for hospital use. Since he has been to the Philippines twice – among large teams providing water and shelter following a typhoon and storm surge in which many drowned.

“For me, it was a very humbling experience. They survived this disaster and still had the strength to smile and to rebuild their lives and never losing faith.”

Since he was been deployed to Kashmir, India in 2014, Nepal in December last year, and now Serbia.

“Luckily, my family has always been very supportive,” Campbell adds.

Over the past month in Prešovo, GlobalMedic, together with the non-government organization grupa484 are distributing clothing, boots, coats and hygiene products to 600-plus people said Campbell, of a camp initially expected to be a transitional stop for people resting and getting clothing before moving on.

Kits include soap, washing powder, toothbrushes, toothpaste, antiseptic, baby diapers and water purification tablets. Family Emergency Kits include essential hygiene supplies such as soap, disinfecting wipes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, diapers and female sanitary pads.

GlobalMedic has served more than 2,000 families on this mission, with more coming every day.

“Now, most have been here at least four weeks, and counting. But the camps has to be much better than most with large, dry shelters, good drainage and no mud, even after lots of rain. There’s nice, clean, hot showers.”

Prešovo, he says is a bit smaller than Belleville and has an unemployment rate of 70-80 per cent as all the factories have been shut down for many years.

“Most refugees seem to be trying to get to Germany,” said Campbell. “One woman I spoke with is trying to get to Canada, with paperwork submitted, and now, just waiting to hear from our embassy.”

He said a few people become desperate and do leave the camp during the night, taking a cab in hopes to the border.

“Usually they are driven off far from the border, then after paying what they have, are told to get out, and are left stranded. The refugees are cautioned about the cab drivers when getting to the camp, but after weeks of nothing happening, they become desperate, and try on their own anyway.”

The wait is depressing, but not without some fun to relieve a bit of stress the refugees are facing, if only for a short time.

“Entertainment is usually soccer in the parking lot which attracts lots of support and attention. There was even a first Prešovo Championship between various NGO and refugees for the ‘Campions Cup’. Another game today, and tonight, a table tennis competition.

GlobalMedic, based in Toronto, has a few paid employees and the rest are volunteers – many of whom are also doctors, lawyers, nurses and from every walk of life. More at globalmedic.ca

Campbell is expecting to be home Wednesday.


Some photographs from Richard Campbell:

waiting-in-linePeople in the lineup to receive coats.

rest-after-a-long-walkMany of the refugees had walked a great distance. Once they entered into Serbia from Macedonia, they came to a smaller camp, where they could rest, then were bused the last few kilometers to the camp in Presevo.

soccer-gameLots of teams from the camp and NGO. This was the first big competition, and went on for three days. Helps relieve stress of the refugees, if only for a while.

sheltersShelters being used at the camp.

boys-new-shoesA young boy tries out a new pair of shoes.

looking-for-familyCampbell said it is always sad to see the posters of people searching for family members.

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