“It seemed like hell to me when I saw it,” said Hamid Niazi of his first glimpse inside a refugee camp in Hungary.
The Sheffield dad was part of a group of nine residents who drove across Europe with vans full of supplies to donate to desperate refugees last week.
They arrived at Roszec Camp, near the Hungarian border with Serbia, more than 36 hours after they set off from The Wicker in Sheffield.
IT worker Hamid, aged 50 and from Tinsley, said: “The camp was just plastic tents like people use when they go camping. The people were coming through so tired and cold – you could hear children crying.
“There was a child a few months old who had hypothermia.
“It seemed like hell to me when I saw it.
“We distributed what we could then it started raining, the whole field turned into a mud bath. By then everyone of us was tired and cold but none of us complained.”
The team from Sheffield also went to Szeged Railway station – which is a few miles from the camps near the Serbian borders and is where many refugees end up stranded.
Hamid said youngsters grinned widely after they were given snack bars and warm clothing.
“We wanted to do what we could but we also wanted to show that there were people out there who care for them,” he said.
“It was about trying to give them a break from what they’ve been through, I don’t think the refugee children have been kids for a long time.”
The team mission came about after Hamid, moved by news coverage of the crisis, took to social media issuing a rallying call for people to help refugees.
Soon friends offered to go with him and donations of clothes, sleeping bags and toiletries came flooding in from the community. Some volunteers were from Sheffield’s Football Unites, Racism Divides organisation.
Hamid said: “One friend said he could sell his car and buy a van. Another one said he was ready to go.
“Personally I couldn’t believe I had been watching the news on the Friday and we were on the way by Tuesday.
“When you come back it is difficult because while you have come back they are still there, we didn’t solve anyone’s problem. These things are going to stick with people all their lives. One member of the group brought his leather coat with him which was about £200 but he gave it to someone who needed it. He was ready to give his shoes to someone as well.”
The group also saw first-hand some of the difficulties in refugee camps. They were not allowed in one site and had to hand over their goods to the Red Cross.
Hamid said: “The Red Cross woman took everything we had but we weren’t allowed to help her, the guards wouldn’t either.
“Out there we realised what goods are desperately needed and what aren’t. People need good quality walking shoes, jackets, umbrellas and medicines. What was heartwarming is there were people there who had come from Austria as well, from the Spanish community who wanted to do something.”
Sheffield Volunteer Centre has issued advice on how people can help in the refugee crisis. Here are five ways to make a difference.
1) A Sheffield Refugee summit has been organised to hear what is happening, what Sheffield is doing and how people can help this Saturday, September 19, from 11am to 2pm at the University of Sheffield, Firth Hall.
2) Charities which support refugees and asylum seekers already in Sheffield are overwhelmed with calls and need volunteers. Apply at www.sheffieldvolunteercentre.org.uk/start-volunteering
People can also talk to volunteer advisors at a drop in session at the centre on Monday to Wednesday between 10am and 4pm.
3) Donate clothing and other items. Collections are being taken at Sheffield Town Hall, 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, Theatre Delicatessen on The Moor, Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, at Endcliffe Park Café, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, at the One Nation Community Centre on Leyburn Road on Monday Wednesday and Friday from 6.30pm to 8pm, and at the office of MP Louise Haigh, 63 Chesterfield Road, and the office of MP Harry Harpham, 349 Shirecliffe Road, from Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm.
4) Project Paddington is a group set up to mobilise primary school children to send a teddy, drawing of themselves and a note to a refugee child. On registration people receive information about how to run a scheme in their school our group. Email email@example.com.
5) Donate to a charity providing humanitarian work overseas. These organisations include Save the Children, Red Cross Europe, The UN Refugee Agency, and Médecins Sans Frontières. The Aylan Kurdi Fund was named in honour of the drowned child and set up within 24 hours of the horrific pictures circulating around the world. Money raised goes to Hand in Hand for Syria.