Portlander helps Syrians fleeing to Greece

Javier Alvarez shares story of life vests of death

Life vests pile up on a beach in Greece. These vests are actually filled with foam and won't save a person from drowning, Dec. 19, 2015 (JAVIER ALVAREZ)
Life vests pile up on a beach in Greece. These vests are actually filled with foam and won't save a person from drowning, Dec. 19, 2015 (JAVIER ALVAREZ)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With the ongoing war in Syria, the flood of refugees into Europe continues with deadly consequences. Humanitarian agency Mercy Corps, based in Portland, is working to help those refugees have a better life.

Javier Alvarez, Director of Global Emergencies for Mercy Corps, Dec. 19, 2015 (KOIN)
Javier Alvarez, Director of Global Emergencies for Mercy Corps, Dec. 19, 2015 (KOIN)

Javier Alvarez is Director of Global Emergencies for Mercy Corps. He recently returned to Portland after spending months in Greece helping Syrian refugees.

“They want to go back and have productive lives and communities,” Alvarez tells KOIN 6 News. He believes the last thing a refugee wants is to live in another country. But many feel they have no choice.

“Their choices: I either stay and face fear, conflict and eventually death, or I try to go somewhere else and look for better opportunities.”

Many refugees lose their lives during the trip to Greece and those who do make it there have a long way to go before they can travel to Germany and apply for refugee status. That is where Mercy Corps comes in.

“We basically are providing shelter, we are providing food, we are providing cash,” says Alvarez. Mercy Corps provides pre-paid debit cards worth 150 Euros to some people so they can buy the basics like food and clothing.

Alvarez says there is much desperation, but also hope, even though at times that is hard to see. He shared a story about mounds of life vests that are being removed from beaches in Greece. These life vests are filled with foam that become heavy in the water, forcing people under, drowning them. Alvarez says smugglers prey on desperate people, charging 100 Euros for these fake life vests.

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