Winter clothes for Syrian refugees delayed midway to destination

A container filled with winter clothes for Syrian refugees in Turkey is on delay again, after being put under intensive inspection in Norfolk, Virginia on Tuesday.

By Aya Al-Hakim

Mohamed Masalmeh and a few of the group's Justice and Freedom for Syria volunteers.
Mohamed Masalmeh and a few of the group’s Justice and Freedom for Syria volunteers. (Photo courtesy Justice and Freedom for Syria)

A container filled with winter clothes for Syrian refugees in Turkey is on delay again, after being put under intensive inspection in Norfolk, Virginia on Tuesday.

The group Justice and Freedom for Syria in Halifax run by Saint Mary’s students have brought people across Nova Scotia to donate clothes to send to some of the nearly six million Syrians who fled to Turkey from civil war.

“We hoped the container would reach the refugees before the winter ends, but it hasn’t even reached Turkey yet,” said Mohamed Masalmeh, co-founder of the group Justice and Freedom for Syria.

The reason the container was taken under inspection is unknown.

The group planned to send the container in Jan. 2014 to a registered NGO organization in Turkey that accepted to pick up the cargo, but the shipping company ZIM refused to ship it.

Masalmeh got an email from ZIM saying that some of the donations that reached Turkey have disappeared or left abandoned and so will not take the risk to accept it.

He claims that a letter from the group’s consignee was sent to the company to ensure that the cargo will be picked, but ZIM did not change its mind.

“I feel like I am trying to ship drugs and not clothes, kids toys and jackets,” writes Mohamed on the Facebook event’s status on Jan.16.

“The company’s refusal to ship the container was very frustrating so it made me go to the media,” Masalmeh said.

The media coverage brought the attention of politicians and even people from the military to discuss the issue.

Peter Clark of Cyberfreight Systems Maritimes decided to help the group after hearing their struggle on CBC. He found a shipping company called Hapag-Llyod willing to ship the container.

“He approached us and told us he will do it for no charge. We brought the container back and unloaded it ourselves to the container Clark provided,” said Masalmeh.

He got news from the shipping company on Tuesday that the container has reached the U.S, but it was taken for inspection by homeland security in Virginia.

“I don’t know why the container is being intensively inspected. All the goods are listed in detail and we didn’t miss one thing. There are no dangerous goods, only clothing, accessories and kids toys,” said Masalmeh.

Trish from Cyberfreight Systems Maritimes Inc. has been contacting homeland security and the head office of the shipping company twice a day. She’s doing her best to ensure no further delay and to get the container across to its destination.

“It seems that everything about Syria’s situation is more complicated than it looks. Sometimes I think asking for our dignity, basic human rights and freedoms while not selling out is a lost cause,” Masalmeh said.

Check the group’s event page on Facebook.