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Kos refugee relief convoy planned as 1,000 take part in rally of support

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

An aid convoy to help ease the refugee crisis on the Greek island of Kos is leaving Northern Ireland in two weeks' time.

Five lorries filled with vital supplies of food, clothing and shelter are being taken to the island where thousands of displaced people fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa have sought sanctuary.

The news came after more than 1,000 people took part in a refugee solidarity rally at Belfast City Hall on Saturday.

Similar demonstrations were also staged in Londonderry and Omagh.

Colin Loughran, a co-ordinator with Refugee Crisis Appeal NI, said: "We're doing this because this is Europe's largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

"Refugees are arriving in Kos with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Many face long walks during winter months to reach their final destinations throughout Europe."

Donation collection centres have been set up across Northern Ireland as well as in the border counties of Louth and Donegal.

An online fundraising appeal also hopes to generate up to £10,000.

Mr Loughran said volunteers would be working with charities on the ground in Greece to distribute the aid and were particularly focused on helping women and children.

"There is obviously a massive amount of goodwill; the group is trying to focus efforts, co-ordinating donations and organising transport. So far, five, 40ft lorries have been confirmed to transport the aid and two central sorting depots are functioning.

"The aim is to bring all Kos aid donated to a central sorting depot in Ballymena for packing before shipping a convoy to Greece at the end of September. The time scale is ambitious as the aid is needed urgently," he said.

The Kos aid convoy is part of a groundswell of public action in response to the growing migrant crisis.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Belfast rally, Patrick Corrigan, from Amnesty International, said: "We can only solve this crisis with co-operation and solidarity across Europe.

"The demonstration is an act of solidarity with men, women and children who find themselves fleeing for their lives from bombs, bullets and brutality."

Last week Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK could take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years while Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the region could accommodate at least 2,000 displaced people.

Yesterday, David Miliband criticised the Government over the number Mr Cameron said could be taken ahead of a European Union summit on the migration crisis.

The former foreign secretary described Mr Cameron's commitment to take in an average of 4,000 Syrian refugees a year as the equivalent of the number arriving on the beaches of Greek island Lesbos every day.

Mr Miliband, who now heads up the aid agency International Rescue Committee, suggested the UK should join other EU countries in sharing the burden in resettling the hundreds of thousands of refugees travelling across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

"Europe is facing its largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II," said Mr Miliband

In Dublin, the government has also announced plans to accept 4,000 people fleeing conflict.

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