THE FIRST van-load of donations as part of a local appeal to help refugees from Afghanistan was en route to the north of England on Thursday after organisers were inundated with clothing and other essentials.
SIC councillor Ryan Thomson is taking an initial tranche, primarily focused on items for children and babies, to the Care4Calais charity’s base in Stockport. He will make arrangements to transport the remaining donations upon his return to Shetland this weekend.
Collection points were swiftly set up all over Shetland in the wake of harrowing TV footage after the Taliban resumed control of the troubled Middle East nation in mid-August.
It followed the announcement of the withdrawal of US-led forces following a 20-year occupation prompted by Al Qaida’s 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
There are widespread fears of reprisals for Afghan citizens seen to have cooperated with the US-approved regime, along with an expectation that many of the rights gained by Afghan women will be lost with the country back under Taliban rule.
A Tuesday deadline for donations had to be brought forward to Monday due to the sheer volume of boxes and bags given by generous islanders – with Thomson describing it as “mind-blowing” and “just unbelievable”.
John Garriock of Bolts Car Hire has donated a large Volkswagen Crafter van free of charge, which was loaded up and taken on board the ferry from Lerwick on Wednesday night.
Shipping company NorthLink Ferries has also provided free passage to transport the donations.
Thomson said he had received help from the “excellent folk” at Shetland Solidarity with Refugees, set up to help when the Syrian humanitarian crisis was at its worst, and was very grateful for their provision of contacts, expertise and knowledge.
Prior to setting off yesterday Thomson told BBC Radio Shetland: “Because we’re limited in space in terms of how much we’ve received, we’re prioritising all the baby and children items, all the sanitary products, all the toiletries, toothbrushes, etc.”
He said filling the first van had barely made a dent in the amount of donations, though once a freight service is in place Thomson is hopeful that collection points will be able to start accepting further donations.
“We want to get to the point where we can reopen for donations – that’s the plan, and that’ll be sorted by the time we get back hopefully,” Thomson said.
“It really is absolutely mind-blowing, the amount of work folk have done all over Shetland, they’ve opened their homes and been so generous. It’s just unbelievable.”
He said Care4Calais was well placed to accept Shetland donations as many refugees are currently being settled nearby in cities including Manchester and Birmingham.
Further down the line it will be “important that Shetland has a more permanent presence”, Thomson said.
“Obviously there is a real need and want to help the refugees from Afghanistan,” he said, “so we’ll have to work on establishing a more permanent group in Shetland that can liaise with charities on the mainland.”
He referred to “heartbreaking scenes” on TV news bulletins including “pictures of parents giving their babies to soldiers just to keep them safe, because they’re expecting to be killed” and “people on planes with absolutely nothing but the clothes on their back”.
“They’re desperate and they’ve done nothing but help the UK and our people keep that country safe and keep our country safe over the past 20 years, and we need to do everything we can now to help and support them in their time of crisis.”
Thomson said everyone would “hope and pray” that it was just a short term issue but realistically he fears it might turn into “one of the worst humanitarian issues that we face in our lifetimes”.
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