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Red Cross Struggling to Aid Europe's 'New Poor'

  • Lisa Schlein

A homeless man holds a sign that reads "I am hungry" in the northern port town of Thessaloniki, Greece, Jan. 15, 2013.

A homeless man holds a sign that reads "I am hungry" in the northern port town of Thessaloniki, Greece, Jan. 15, 2013.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reports it is struggling to provide assistance to increasing numbers of new poor in Europe.
The latest statistics by the European Union show more than 26 million people are out of work across the 27 EU nations, which remain in the grip of an economic recession, with many more unemployed in the rest of Europe and Central Asia.
After surveying their 52 national societies (IFRC chapters) to determine how the crisis is affecting their activities and ability to cope with the increased needs, IFRC officials warn that millions are suffering from welfare cuts and lack of food aid and medical care, and that many face evictions and homelessness.
The French Red Cross is reporting a 14 percent increase since last year in the number of people asking for assistance. The Danish Red Cross says at Christmas it had a 100 percent increase in the number of people asking for aid since 2009. Lithuania reports that it has increased its food distribution from 30,000 people in 2006 to 100,000 people in 2012.
Europe Zone Red Cross Director Anitta Underlin says the growing number of people turning to the Red Cross for assistance shows the depth of the crisis.
“For the first time ever last year at the annual collection day, the Spanish Red Cross decided to collect money for the people in Spain. It is the first time ever," she said. "They normally collect money to send to Africa and to Asia or to vulnerable people elsewhere. For the first time, the crisis is so high in Spain that they decided to aim at their own country.”
Georg Habsburg, former president of the Hungarian Red Cross, says countries in Central Europe are reeling from the economic recession. In Hungary, he says, 31 percent of the population is affected by poverty and worsening living conditions.
“When you suddenly are confronted with a letter, people writing you, ‘Please, can you provide me with firewood because if I have to think about how to heat my apartment in winter times; I do not know how to buy food,' ... [you realize] this is a big quiet majority that is suffering very much," he said.
The Red Cross says it is unfortunate that government and donor support for Red Cross operations are decreasing at the same time the needs of people across Europe are increasing.

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