Gerhard Tuschla knows how awful it is for people in places rocked by catastrophe or ravaged by war, having spent more than twenty years reporting from the front line. The Austrian reporter has covered 14 wars and ten natural catastrophes in countries like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Mali and the Philippines. Last summer, at the age of 67, he decided to get involved when he saw what a catastrophe the situation on the EU’s external border was turning into: thousands of refugees had arrived in the Hungarian town of Röszke near the Serbian border within the space of a few days. They were put up in totally overcrowded reception camps where there wasn’t enough food and water. “There was no aid anywhere in sight,” recounted Gerhard Tuschla. “So we knew we had to help.”
With his friend Tom Kleinhagauer, Gerhard Tuschla started Project “SOSkonvoi”. They drove out to the Balkan route in cars and vans bringing food and relief for the refugees. “Clothes, food and tons of mineral water,” said Tuschla, listing some of the items they transported. “We collected a mind-boggling amount of donations within an incredibly short time.” More and more volunteers joined them. Their office was turned into a collection point for donations. They put all of their energies into their refugee relief efforts.
The situation at the Serbian-Hungarian border has relaxed somewhat in the meantime but there are still a lot of refugees in need there: more than 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of this year. Countless refugees are stranded in Turkey without money or enough to eat. That is why Gerhard Tuschla continues his refugee relief efforts beyond the Balkan route. From his time as a reporter he remembers aid projects in many crisis-hit regions and tries to learn the lessons.
“I noticed in the past that many relief organizations lacked any sort of real coordination,” said Tuschla. Oftentimes, aid workers would bring donated items without knowing what the people on the ground had the most pressing need for. Consequently, many relief supplies are available in great abundance while others are completely lacking. “Especially when the situation is chaotic, every relief organization needs someone to keep track,” said Gerhard Tuschla, “someone who can tell everyone ‘we’ve got enough of this, we need more of that’.”
This is the role Gerhard Tuschla has taken on for SOSkonvoi. He coordinates a whole slew of aid projects in different locations. In the Turkish city of Istanbul his volunteer aid workers distribute food parcels and drinks to starving refugees. In the Greek capital Athens they run a facility where homeless refugees can find accommodation and get medical care. And a project called “SOSflotte der Menschlichkeit” is about to be launched: at the end of August large numbers of aid workers are due to converge on the Italian island of Lampedusa where they and their lifeboats will support the coastguard and the rescue workers with the shared aim of preventing any more refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean.
Gerhard Tuschla has his hands full with all of these aid projects. He visits all the sites regularly to check what relief goods need to be sourced. A set of sleeping bags for the Greek accommodation facility, food rations for the project in Istanbul, a couple of night vision devices for the aid workers on the rescue boats – Tuschla keeps track of it all and collects donations. The voluntary nature of the role is something the 67-year-old simply takes for granted. As he puts it, “I just can’t sit by and watch people starve, die of thirst or drown in the sea.”
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