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Spain's 'blanket of life' for Syria

According to the UN refugee agency, around 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 October, 2015

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Feature: With winter fast approaching, a group of Spanish women are on a mission to keep Syria's displaced population warm, knitting hundreds of blankets to send to the war-torn country.

Every night for the past fews weeks, a group of Spanish women have been congregating in a café in the heart of Villaverde del Rio, a town of white-washed houses near the Spanish city of Seville.

These women have been meeting for one purpose - to knit scores of blankets to send to war-torn Syria before the cold weather begins.

     We don't look at colour, nor race, nor religion. It doesn't matter if we are Catholics and they are Muslims

"I saw images of the refugees, those parents with their children fleeing the war and it seemed very painful," said Olga Lopez, who knitted a blanket together with three co-workers. "I thought, that could be me," the 48-year-old Madrid mother of two added.

The Syrian war, now in its fifth year, has triggered the world's largest humanitarian crisis since World War Two.

Around four million people have fled the war and another 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria itself.

Working at home or huddled together in cafés, women of all ages across Spain joined the initiative following an online appeal for help.

"Television newscasts at the time were flooded with images of desperate Syrians risking their lives to try to reach Europe and we wanted to do something for people who had remained behind in Syria," said Marta Blanco.

The 44-year-old Madrid architect, who has a blog about knitting, set up a Facebook group for people interested in making blankets to send to Syria dubbed The Blanket of Life. 

"We could buy blankets, everyone has used blankets they could donate. But the idea is to say 'we have not forgotten you, we know there is a war and you are suffering'. It's not just about giving shelter," Marta added.

The Blanket of Life

Within days of being set up, the Facebook group had attracted over 1,000 members. Local chapters of the group were set up in about 50 Spanish cities, charged with collecting and sending the blankets to Madrid.

Several hundred blankets were sent directly by knitters to the Syrian People Support Association, a small NGO in Madrid, which ships them to camps for displaced people inside Syria.

"There is a lot of love delivered in each blanket that is here," said Amer Hijazi, president of the Syrian People Support Association.

Each blanket is wrapped in plastic with a label in both Spanish and Arabic that reads: "We Are With You".

The blankets will be distributed to several camps in mountainous areas in the Idlib province in northwestern Syria where little aid arrives and where the average minimum temperature in January is just above freezing.

"The only means they have to warm themselves are their clothes and blankets," Hijazi explained. "This is why blankets are so important."

'We Are With You' 

The group of women from Villaverde del Rio recently sent 50 blankets of varying sizes that they had knitted to the Syrian People Support Association.

"They usually gather once a week to make blankets for local homeless people, but when they learned of the movement to knit blankets to send to Syria they could not resist taking part," said Coral Benitez, a 59-year-old housewife who coordinates the knitting group.

"We don't look at colour, nor race, nor religion. It doesn't matter if we are Catholics and they are Muslims. We have knitted for people who are sitting in the cold," Coral added.

Members of the Facebook group have posted pictures of themselves knitting with others in outdoor squares, at home with their families sitting on the sofa or alone proudly holding up their finished blankets.

"It's a beautiful idea. A blanket is not much but it was made with much love and I hope some of it reaches these people," Olga adds.

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