Bristol charity says Ukraine donations could cause ‘mess’ at the border despite good intent

A leading Bristol charity has joined nationwide calls for people to stop donating, collecting and sending items of aid for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion and donate money instead.

Aid Box Community said well-meaning but uncoordinated lorry loads of items arriving on the Ukraine borders can create an ‘undignified mess’ and most of it could well end up going to waste. The call came as the Disaster Emergency Committee, a coalition of the leading 15 British emergency aid charities, launched their official appeal for people to help those fleeing or still inside Ukraine.

Since Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine last week, people across Bristol have responded by collecting essential items, or donating everything from sanitary products and toothpaste to clothes and toys. Collection points have been set up around the city, and people have been hiring lorries to take donated items over to eastern Europe.

Ukraine crisis:How to help from Bristol as collections and fundraising are organised

But that has caused concerns among those experienced in dealing with refugee crises and mass displacements of people – with many posts going viral on social media which called for those unofficial or unsolicited donations to stop. Now, a leading Bristol charity has explained why – and why they are calling for people to send funds and not specific items of aid.

Imogen Mcintosh, the co-founder of Aid Box Community, said that unless people are sending through a larger, experienced organisation, they should consider using financial donations instead. Aid Box Community was set up in Bristol at the start of the 2015 migrant crisis, which saw the creation of ‘The Jungle’ on the outskirts of Calais, with hundreds of people living in makeshift shelters.

The charity began working to support those people, and created boxes of aid after seeing what was needed. Now, they are probably Bristol’s leading charity working to support refugees from all parts of the world once they have arrived in Bristol, have nothing, and aren’t entitled to benefits or able to get work.

(Image: Aid Box Community)

Imogen said the scenes of piles of donated goods in Poland concerned her. “The borders are inundated, swamped with useless aid. We saw this when we were out in the French refugee camps – uncoordinated aid deliveries all done with the best intentions but actually causing a lot of work for the people out in the front line,” she said.

“It causes an undignified mess: tons of wasted clothes that ended up being trampled through the mud or used as fuel on fires creating horrendous smoke that caused lung problems,” she added. “If you want to support people in Ukraine from the UK the message we are hearing loud and clear from Ukraine, Poland, Moldavia, and Romania are please send funds not aid, unless you are sending through a larger experienced organisation.

Find out more about what Aid Box Community is doing in Bristol or view more about the Disaster Emergency Committee Ukraine appeal

“It is better to donate funds directly to groups on the ground, which will support them with immediate needs,” she added. She said Aid Box community was preparing to work with the first arrivals in Bristol of Ukrainian refugees.

The Foreign Office has also urged people to stop collecting and sending items to eastern Europe. “FCDO strongly advises people to donate cash through trusted charities and humanitarian partners, rather than donating in kind assistance like blankets, clothing,” a statement from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said. “There should be a number of appeals becoming public this week which people can donate to.

“We do not encourage donations of in kind assistance as it is far more efficient for these items to be procured and delivered in host countries rather than sent from the UK. Supply chains are already stretched and people might be sending items that aren’t required which risks blocking the chains further, and preventing lifesaving assistance from getting through. Trusted humanitarian partners will be regularly assessing the need and delivering the assistance required to meet those needs. HMG has no capacity to distribute in kind assistance,” it added.

Read more: Ukraine collection point near Bristol flooded with donations

And today (Friday, March 4), the Disaster Emergency Committee – a group of 15 major relief charities including Oxfam, the British Red Cross and Christian Aid – launched its official appeal, with the backing of the UK Government, which will match every pound donated.

“More than a million people have fled their homes to escape the conflict in Ukraine,” the DEC appeal said. “Heavy fighting, shelling and air strikes across the country have had devastating consequences for ordinary people. Homes have been destroyed. Families have been separated. Lives have been lost.

Images of the scenes of wasted donations on the Ukraine border
Images of the scenes of wasted donations on the Ukraine border
(Image: Aid Box Community)

“At Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, huge numbers of people are arriving with only what they can carry. DEC charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. DEC charities are in Ukraine and neighbouring countries meeting the needs of all refugees and displaced people,” the appeal spokesperson added.

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