11th March 2016


Bendigo Woman Assists Child Refugees in Europe

A Bendigo-based woman has just returned from three months working with the refugees flooding into Europe.

Megan Wieczorek, a child protection specialist, was deployed by international humanitarian agency RedR Australia to support their partner UNICEF in this humanitarian crisis.

Megan, 31, helped establish a Child Friendly Space that supported 1,250 refugee children who transited through Slovenia this year, after taking boats from Turkey to Greece and travelling up the Balkan route. The children are part of the massive influx of migrants and refugees fleeing Syria and other war torn countries for Europe.

“The refugee children and families in Slovenia are fleeing terrible conflicts and many have seen family and friends killed or suffered other terrible tragedies. It’s a desperate decision when they choose to leave their homes to seek safety and international protection,” Megan said after returning last week.

Last week, Slovenia and neighbouring Croatia closed their borders to refugees effectively blocking the route north to Austria and Germany where the refugees hoped to apply for asylum.

The Child Friendly Space Megan established provided children with an opportunity to rest, relax and play during what is often a traumatic journey fleeing war and persecution. The space also provided support to their families to access vital services including medical assistance, family tracing and reunification, mother and baby services  and food and winter clothing distribution.

“The majority were physically exhausted and affected by what they had seen and experienced during their journey from their home countries” Megan said.

“Many were walking in the only shoes and clothes they had, and were dependent on the humanitarian assistance provided along the route to meet their daily needs.

“Thirty seven per cent of the travelling population are children, so there’s high demand for spaces like ours even though most children will only spend a couple of hours in the space before transiting onwards to Austria.”

“By the time the families reach Slovenia, many children have been travelling for weeks. They endure a terrifying boat trip from Turkey to Greece and then walk, bus and train their way north through Europe to the popular destination countries of Austria and Germany.”

Last year, more than a million refugees and migrants mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan crossed into Europe. Before the borders closed last week, more than 135,000 people had crossed into Europe so far this year.

“Since the Syrian crisis started in 2011, RedR Australia has deployed more than 60 experts to support the work of our United Nations partner agencies including UNICEF, UNHCR, the World Food Programme, World Health Organisation and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,” RedR Australia CEO Kirsten Sayers said.

“Our experts have been stationed in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, but we’ve also had six in Europe.”

RedR currently has 27 people in 19 countries including four responding to Europe’s migrant and refugee crisis, four responding to the recent Fiji cyclone and three supporting the famine response in Ethiopia.

RedR Australia is a leading international emergency relief agency that provides surge support for United Nations agencies during natural disasters and conflict-induced crises. RedR Australia is a registered charity and receives funding support from the Australian and UK Governments and through public donations.

For further information or to interview Megan Wieczorek or Kirsten Sayers, please contact Katrina Peach:  03 9329 1357 / 0414 684 664 or email