Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore

by Lighthouse Relief
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Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore
Help LHR Face Challenges Beyond the Shore

The past four months in Greece have been marked by momentous shifts for asylum seekers and refugees, from ongoing COVID-19 restrictions to increased insecurity and uncertainty on the Aegean Islands. As we mark the five year anniversary of the founding of Lighthouse Relief, we take stock of these changes, and all that we have been able to achieve thanks to your support. Today, it is more important than ever to continue providing support to people seeking asylum in Greece.

When we last shared an update with you, we had paused our primary operations on Lesvos, with a small team of our long term volunteers remaining on the north shore to support new arrivals with essential items, in coordination with our partners. In Ritsona Camp, we were supporting youth through an online space, while also planning ways to restart our activities in a safe way.

Since then, much has changed for us and for our teams in Greece. We invite you to take a look at how our programmes have evolved since then - how we have navigated the challenges of the past months, as well as difficult decisions with which we have grappled.

Ritsona Camp: A Digital Space & Restarting Activities

Ritsona Camp, mainland Greece, is now home to almost 3,000 people - more than four times its population in 2017. Thanks to your support through the years, in 2019, we reached 55 percent of the camp’s residents through our Youth Engagement and Child Friendly spaces.

After over four months of quarantine, our physical spaces in camp were in urgent need of rebuilding and restructuring - from new flooring and weatherproofing, to walkways and electrical work. Our Ritsona team worked directly with the community from the start to revamp our spaces, building a new roof and fence completely from scratch.

Despite the past months being a difficult time for Ritsona, we were moved and grateful to see the youth coming together - rebuilding these spaces not only for their peers, but also for the youngest generations of camp residents: “several youth told me this week they wanted to be part of rebuilding Lighthouse because it is a place for everyone, and we should all work together to get it open as soon as possible,” our YES Manager shared.

While rebuilding the space, the YES also adopted new strategies to make sure that our programming remained safe and socially distant, integrating more seating areas to accommodate the growing number of youth in the space since the recent expansion. As lockdown measures began to ease in Greece in the late summer, our team was thrilled to be able to relaunch our in-person activities in Ritsona Camp in early August.

When we launched our in-person activities in the Child Friendly Space, we also made significant changes to ensure that our programming would be COVID-19 safe. We focused on the age group of 3-4 years old, as they have no other formal or non-formal educational activity available to them, and they cannot go to Greek schools - at this crucial development phase, children need opportunities to play and learn in a safe space. In order to make sure our spaces are hygienic, our CFS team started cleaning and sanitising the spaces three times a day, also sanitising any toys used, and distributing hand sanitiser to our young visitors. Our reopening of the CFS would not have been possible without your support these past months!

Another exciting development in the past months has been the launching of our formalised Resident Volunteer Programme (RVP). Our Resident Volunteers have played a critical role in our psychosocial support activities in Ritsona Camp for the past two years, and this August, we launched a formalised version of the programme to offer in-depth training and skills-building.

In early September, we were disheartened when Ritsona was placed under a lockdown due to Coronavirus cases in the camp. However, we took this as an opportunity to further clean, decorate and weatherproof our spaces in the camp while providing as much remote psychosocial support as possible. Our Resident Volunteer Facilitator has been finding innovative ways to provide psychosocial support and training to our Resident Volunteers remotely. Through pre-recorded videos, skills practice and online resources, she has been offering training on coping skills building, including tools such as self-compassion, gratitude, and journaling.

This week, we have been able to re-start our programming in the CFS, offering activities to Ritsona Camp’s young residents aged 3 and 4. We have also reopened parts of the YES, holding an in-person English workshop outdoors, with masks mandatory! Thanks to your support, we were able to ensure that all activities were carried out in strict compliance with hygiene and sanitation guidelines.

Lesvos: A Difficult Decision for Our Lesvos Team Amidst Increasing Insecurity 

In the past few months, we have witnessed a series of upheavals on Lesvos, impacting the security and human rights of asylum seekers and refugees. In order to demonstrate the impact of your support, we would like to share with you some of the challenges that we have faced on the island since June, and some of the ways in which we have responded.

Unfortunately, the process for people arriving to Lesvos has undergone significant changes, becoming increasingly militarised. Since May, upon arrival, people are taken to a quarantine camp located in the north of Lesvos - an extremely low-resource setting to which only the authorities and the UNHCR have access. In addition, and as recent news reports confirm, the illegal practice of pushbacks has significantly increased in the Aegean Sea - this has made it nearly impossible for people to seek asylum, a right to which they’re entitled by international law, and has greatly reduced the numbers of arrivals to Lesvos.

Thanks to your generosity and steadfast support, we were able to find ways to continue providing support to vulnerable people on Lesvos over the summer despite these challenges. We focused on the distribution of non-food items, such as clothing, hygiene items, and baby items, to people in the quarantine camp, through another orgnaisation on the north shore. Our Logistics Officer also further expanded our provision of clothing and other essential items to other organisations serving asylum seekers in the south of Lesvos.

In early September, we witnessed asylum seekers pushed into an even more precarious position, when fires devastated Moria Camp, where over 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers were residing. The day after the fires, we immediately supported our partners in the south of the island with urgently needed items, such as bottles of water, baby food, and dry food.

However, despite our efforts to continue providing support to asylum seekers on Lesvos, it is clear that with the changes described above, the role of NGOs like ours in the context of arrivals has become extremely limited. Though we have continued to help in any way we could, it is no longer possible for us to provide the same dignified emergency response that we committed to in September of 2015, five years ago. After much deliberation and painful discussions, we recently made the decision to formally cease our Emergency Response operations and to withdraw from Skala Sikamineas, the tiny fishing village that is the base of our operations. To learn more about this decision, we invite you to visit us online here.

In the short-term, we have focused on distributing needed items from our warehouse in the north to other organisations across the island, particularly in this time of acute need on Lesvos. We also worked to transfer some of our remaining stock of clothes and NFIs to the community-run warehouse in Ritsona Camp, from where it can be redistributed. In the long term, we are identifying the biggest needs both on Lesvos and on the mainland of Greece, to see how we can respond to the short-term and the long-term impacts of the fire, which are vast and multi-faceted. We look forward to sharing the next steps for our Emergency Response operations with you in the future.

The Immeasurable Impact of Your Support

We want to conclude with a wholehearted thank you for your support - not only in the past months, but since we launched this project years ago. It is thanks to your support that we have been able to provide a dignified emergency response on Lesvos for the past five years. You have also enabled us to continue providing psychosocial support in Ritsona Camp, where it is more needed than ever.

As we look forward to our next endeavours, we are humbled by your compassion, solidarity, and support - for this and so much more, thank you.

The CFS Team in Ritsona Camp
The CFS Team in Ritsona Camp
Interactive Storytelling in the CFS
Interactive Storytelling in the CFS
The YES team & youth working on reconstruction
The YES team & youth working on reconstruction
Water & baby food delivered after Moria fires
Water & baby food delivered after Moria fires
In-person English classes relaunched in the YES
In-person English classes relaunched in the YES

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In the first half of 2020, our teams on Lesvos and in Ritsona Camp have had to face unprecedented challenges. While we had braced for a demanding year - kicked off with an expansion of Ritsona Camp and the closure of a crucial transit facility in the north of Lesvos - the past months have proven to be some of the most challenging since Lighthouse Relief was formed five years ago.

From heightened tensions in the Aegean islands to the global COVID19 pandemic, LHR has been forced to adapt to unexpected obstacles. In this difficult context, displaced people were left more vulnerable than ever - and our teams worked tirelessly to find innovative ways to provide them with continued support. Today, as we tentatively restart our operations in Greece with your steadfast support, we will continue to adapt and implement necessary changes to our programmes.

In the last days of February, following intense protests against the building of detention centres on the Aegean islands, tensions on Lesvos reached a peak. With reports of threats and attacks on asylum seekers, humanitarian workers and journalists, the situation quickly escalated, prompting our team to evacuate our volunteers and suspend our primary emergency response operations. Our core team of long-term volunteers remained on the island, coordinating with other actors and partners on the north shore to continue providing new arrivals with blankets, clothes, dry food and other essential items.

In the meantime, as the Coronavirus pandemic swept through Europe, our team in Ritsona Camp had to implement changes to our programming, limiting the number of visitors to our spaces and encouraging hygiene and sanitation measures. 

On March 16th, with the Greek government enforcing preventative lockdown measures to stem the spread of the virus, we decided to suspend our physical operations in camp for the safety of residents and volunteers. Since then, the team hasn’t ceased to find new ways to support the Ritsona community remotely. The creation of a “Youth Online Space” (YOS) on Facebook provided a support group to keep engaging with the youth in the camp - offering online lessons, activities and one-on-one support. In parallel, LHR coordinated with Cafe Rits, a partner NGO in camp, to distribute hygiene and food items to the residents of Ritsona as the living conditions in camp deteriorated under lockdown.

Our remaining team members on Lesvos were also impacted by preventative measures against Coronavirus. In respect of the lockdown measures and the safety of the local community, our team avoided all direct contact with new arrivals, resorting to making our stock accessible to other actors in the north and providing food, clothes and other items to new arrivals through one of our partners. On social networks, LHR’s communications team continued to document and inform about the ongoing situation for people landing in the north of the island, even as groups were transported to a closed quarantine facility.

As lockdown measures are lifting throughout Europe, and Greece cautiously opens its borders, we are now looking to restart our operations as soon as possible, taking into consideration all necessary safety precautions. Our teams are working on implementing changes to our programming to ensure the safety of volunteers, residents and new arrivals - including protective gear, and water and sanitation protocols. Meanwhile, we continue to provide non-food items, such as clothing and hygiene items, to people arriving on the north shore, who must wait out a mandatory quarantine period before registering their asylum claims.  

With your never-ending support, we believe LHR can once more overcome these challenges, and return to providing much-needed relief to displaced persons on the shore and beyond.

Clothes packs prepared for new arrivals on Lesvos
Clothes packs prepared for new arrivals on Lesvos
Food packs distributed via our partner on Lesvos
Food packs distributed via our partner on Lesvos
Food distribution in Ritsona with Cafe Rits
Food distribution in Ritsona with Cafe Rits
YES intern Anna giving a singing lesson on the YOS
YES intern Anna giving a singing lesson on the YOS
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Painting: Adrian Pourviseh
Painting: Adrian Pourviseh

At the end of 2019, we looked back on a year of growth, while anticipating that 2020 would bring with it new challenges we would soon face. Indeed, the first few months of this year have tested our operations, pushed us to constantly adapt, and spurred the scaling up of our operations. From drastically increased needs in Ritsona Camp, ongoing arrivals amidst cold weather, and the closure of a crucial transit facility on Lesvos, and flooding of our spaces in Ritsona, our teams have tackled these challenges head-on. 

Before we delve into the changes of the New Year, we look back on 2019, a whirlwind of activity and growth for our operations. Over the course of 2019, our teams on Lesvos assisted 14,531 people arriving to the north shore of the island - more than double the number of people whom we supported last year. Half of those arriving were under the age of 18, with 948 making the dangerous journey alone. Throughout this busy year, our team led 365 operations and our spotting volunteers identified 125 boats arriving to the north shore, enabling a fast and efficient response from our landing team. Meanwhile in Ritsona Refugee Camp in the mainland of Greece, we continued to be a source of consistent, reliable psychosocial support, building on our strong relationships with the community. Our teams there hosted 50-60 children in the Child Friendly Space every day, and 75-100 people in our bustling Youth Engagement Space, embarking on several creative projects with the youth and strengthening our sports offerings for all ages.  

Today on Lesvos, people continue to arrive despite the bitter cold and strong winds. In the first month of 2020 our teams provided a warm welcome to 834 people. At the end of January, however, we received the alarming news that Stage 2, the last transit facility on the island of Lesvos, would close by the end of the month. Stage 2 was a crucial support structure, where we offered warmth, shelter, dry clothes, and a chance to recover for people making the harrowing journey to Greece. The closure of Stage 2 has left our teams rapidly adapting to the new operational context - we have shifted our operations to ensure that people arriving can still receive the same support at the landing scene. To do this, our distribution team is deployed at landings, with a van full of clothing, dry food and blankets. We are determined and always ready to continue providing emergency support to people fleeing conflict and persecution, and we continue to adapt our operations to offer as much support as we can in the ever-changing circumstances. 

The impact of the situation on the Aegean islands is also felt acutely on the mainland, in Ritsona Camp. In the first month of 2020,  Ritsona Camp received over 1,500 new residents, many transferred from Moria Camp on Lesvos, and Vathy Camp on Samos. During that time, our spaces faced significant flooding, and our team rapidly mobilised to recover the spaces, striving to make them safe and inviting.

Among the new arrivals, there are 700-800 children who are not able to access formal education until the autumn of 2020. As they wait for the next step of their asylum procedures, it is more important than ever to offer them the opportunity to participate in psychosocial activities. Today, our numbers in Ritsona are higher than ever - our Child Friendly Space is welcoming over 100 children to programming everyday, while the Youth Engagement Space is welcoming over 135 people every day. Our CFS team is adapting their programming to ensure that we can respond to these increased needs, offering activities such as crafts, including watercolouring, drawing and structured play. 

Now, with increased numbers in the YES, we are offering a wide range of language workshops and skills workshops, ensuring that we have a diverse range of options to offer the growing population of the camp. One of these workshops is a music-writing workshop, in which one of our volunteers leads a collaborative music writing project with youth, intermingling different voices, languages and perspectives. By the end of the month of February, 600 more people are expected to be transferred to Ritsona Camp, and we are committed to ensuring that everyone can access psychosocial support in our spaces.  

Despite the many shifts we have witnessed over the past month, we persevere in our commitment to people arriving to Lesvos, and people waiting on the mainland of Greece. Today, the need for solidarity and support are truly greater than ever. Without your help, we simply would not have been able to adapt and strengthen our operations to respond to these increased needs - for this, and much more, thank you! 

LHR distribution team supporting a landing
LHR distribution team supporting a landing
LHR's Ritsona team repairing spaces after floods
LHR's Ritsona team repairing spaces after floods
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Organization Information

Lighthouse Relief

Location: Solna - Sweden
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @LighthouseRR
Project Leader:
Marie-Helene Rousseau
Vallingby/Stockholm, Sweden
$55,802 raised of $70,000 goal
 
612 donations
$14,198 to go
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