September 9, 2015

ADRA’s Migrant Drive Takes Slovenia by Storm

, news editor, Adventist Review

The 2.5 tons of clothing, food, and other humanitarian aid that arrived a few days ago on the Greek island of Lesbos may have seemed like a miracle to needy migrants.

It was — and more.

Volunteers with the Slovenian branch of ADRA packed the shipment by organizing a lightening donation drive that took the small country by storm and created such a traffic jam of donors that the military had to escort the cargo through crowded streets to the airport.

“Slovenian people are known for their generosity. When the help is needed, they provide,” said Maja Ahac, ADRA’s country director for Slovenia. “Most of the donations came from people with low income, which is not surprising as they understand what it feels like.”

Lesbos, an island off the coast of Turkey, is one of the entry points to Europe that has taken the spotlight in the continent’s migrant crisis. Greece’s migration policy minister warned Monday that Lesbos is “on the verge of an explosion” because of a build-up of 20,000 migrants, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, who are waiting for permission to travel to mainland Europe.

The Slovenia story began on the evening of Monday, Aug. 24, when ADRA learned via a local group of nongovernmental organizations that an urgent request had come in from a medical doctor and veterinarian vacationing on Lebos. The pair had reported seeing many migrants in distress and no one assisting them.

“There was not much time for planning since the cargo had to be at the Slovenian national airport by 3 p.m. on Thursday for the last charter flight to Lesbos the following morning,” the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Trans-European Division said in a statement. The division includes Slovenia and Greece.

Read “From Austria to Britain, Adventists Reach Out to Migrants”

ADRA volunteers turned to social media to promote the campaign. While they initially sought cash donations, people from across the southeastern European country of 2 million quickly pitched in. Soon 11 official collection points sprang up together with more than a dozen unofficial ones in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, and other places.

National and private television stations sensed a big story and made the drive the top headlines on their news programs. They noted that ADRA was the first organization in Slovenia to collect and send humanitarian aid to migrants in the crisis.

“By Wednesday evening, the first day of gathering humanitarian aid in Ljubljana, all in-kind donations for Lesbos were packed, weighed, listed, and prepared for transport,” Ahac said, according to the division’s statement. “We had to rent another warehouse for the night! And it was only Day One of collection in Ljubljana!’

The donations kept pouring in on Thursday, the deadline for taking the cargo to the airport, causing a major traffic jam on Ljubljana’s main road. Slovenian soldiers stepped in to help ADRA volunteers transport all the boxes to the airport — and the cargo managed to arrive two hours ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline.

The volunteers had hoped to collect 2.5 tons of goods — the maximum space allotted to them on the airplane. They ended up with 12.5 tons.

ADRA volunteers contacted ADRA’s branch in Serbia to accept the overflow for local migrants. Slovenian railways agreed to cover the cost of transportation to Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and the 10-ton shipment was sent last week.

Meanwhile, Slovania’s national airline, Adria Airways, donated the cost of the transportation of the 2.5-ton cargo to Lesbos. Both airports — in Ljubljana and on Lesbos — allowed the cargo to cross the border without any taxes or other fees.

The aid reached the hands of grateful migrants in Lesbos’ town of Molyvos.