Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp

by Lighthouse Relief
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Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp
Relief for Refugees in Greece's Largest Camp

Lighthouse Relief established a presence in Ritsona in 2016, with the aim of providing dignified psychosocial support. Our inviting cluster of cheerfully decorated ISO containers and outdoor areas stand as a beacon of hope and light amidst mostly drab surroundings. As safe spaces to gather, play, learn, Lighthouse has created a place where children can be children, and the whole community can partake in activities to regain a semblance of normalcy. 

Now in spring of  2022, needs in Ritsona are greater than ever. Recent arrivals to camp include higher percentages of unaccompanied children, single mothers, and survivors of gender violence or discrimination, including people who identify as LGBTQI+. Only 1,000 out of 2,600 residents receive food. Lighthouse Relief is trying to adapt to meet these urgent needs. Currently, 38% of the 2,600 residents are children and the majority come from Afghanistan (33%) and Syria (32%). Over the past year, circumstances in the camp have deteriorated: children have had little access to school due to bureaucratic delays, crowded classrooms, transportation issues, and COVID-19 disruptions. A high, prison-like wall has been erected around the perimeter of the camp, fostering stress and anxiety. One-third of residents have neither access to food nor cash assistance as a result of recent policy changes. Tensions are rising as a result of increasing hardship (if you are interested in learning more about recent developments impacting the lives of people seeking refuge in Greece, please read the section at the end of this report). 

Your generosity has sustained our presence in camp, whilst allowing our activities to evolve according to changing needs and circumstances, and we thank you! 

Here is a summary of our programmes and what we have achieved with your support since the start of 2022:

1. Lighthouse Youth and Community Centre (formerly known as YES) - A welcoming drop-in space for residents aged 15+ to drink tea and make use of foosball, musical instruments, sewing machines, a multilingual library, etc., and take part in workshops ranging from guitar to photography to English. Every day we welcome an average of 38 residents into our space. Our attendance remains steadily high as people appreciate the opportunity to jam together using guitars and keyboards, compete for the Ritsona Chess Champion title or organise an impromptu volleyball match

2. Little Lighthouse - A child-friendly space that runs an informal daycare for 3-4 year-olds, where they can develop social skills, gain exposure to multiple languages, and learn how to regulate their emotions through play. Everyday, an average of 22 children visit the Little Lighthouse to take part in an array of early childhood development activities, including how to use scissors as part of arts and crafts, song and dance through musical chairs and circle time activities which help children understand their own emotions (“show me your sad face,” “show me your happy face,” “show me your surprised face”). And of course, they kept on singing “Baby Shark” together!

3. Lighthouse Sports - Football, basketball, volleyball, and more as a vehicle for physical exercise, stress relief, and confidence-building for kids 5-14. Younger children play games designed to instil values of gender equality and respect for others and also learn healthy hygiene habits such as hand-washing and teeth-brushing. Since the start of 2022, an average of 18 children attend daily sports sessions. 

Dignity and respect for the equal rights of all people guide everything that we do. This is reflected in our commitment to always listen to those we endeavour to support, and ensure that they are equal partners in our activities. Our goal is for people with relevant lived experience to serve in leadership positions. Accordingly, our project teams include volunteers from the community we support, who serve as integral members of the Lighthouse team. Community Volunteers receive training in useful skills from conflict de-escalation to CPR, as well as support for professional development.

Thank you sincerely for standing in solidarity with people fleeing conflict, disaster and persecution. We are grateful to count you among our loyal supporters.

Overview  of recent changes affecting refugees and asylum seekers in Greece:

New arrivals on the mainland, Crete and Rhodes currently have no way to register their asylum claim, leaving thousands of people with few avenues to access legal protection, medical support, housing or food. Gates and surveillance technologies are being installed around walled-off camps, the final step in creating closed, prison-like camps across Greece that will restrict residents’ freedom of movement. The amount of cash assistance that certain categories of asylum seekers receive every month has also been reduced to €75 (meanwhile most receive zero). Food insecurity continues to be a devastating issue for residents of Ritsona - in February 2,600 people resided in Ritsona, of whom 1,600 were considered “ineligible” for food distributions. Government accommodations, including the ESTIA II programme which housed vulnerable asylum seekers, has been reduced and will be phased out by the end of this year. In January, the worst snowstorm in 14 years hit the Athens metro area, leaving thousands of people living on the streets and in low-quality housing in need of emergency warm shelter, winter clothes and blankets. In Ritsona, the snowstorm left the entire camp without electricity and potable water for some days.

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Food distributions in Ritsona Refugee Camp
Food distributions in Ritsona Refugee Camp

It has been one year since we launched our GlobalGiving campaign to provide critical support to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. The past months have at times been turbulent, but also inspiring and rewarding as our teams have come together to tackle momentous challenges head on. You have played a vital role in this. 

This year, you have enabled our team to provide emergency relief and psychosocial support to refugees and asylum seekers living in Greece. However, we know that over the coming months needs will increase. 

Recently, refugees and asylum seekers lost access to cash assistance as the responsibility for distribution transferred from UNHCR to the Greek government. It has now been over two months since residents of camps have received cash, and in its place, food distributions have been set up - however, the food is of poor quality, and many residents of camps are completely excluded from receiving it.   

The loss of cash assistance has pushed many people into even more precarious situations. 

Your support has enabled our team to provide consistent psychosocial support in Ritsona Camp, in order to alleviate the distress of these harsh policies. We also worked with another organisation to coordinate a food distribution of dry food to residents who were excluded from working closely with other organisations to coordinate food distributions. Our team has also been supporting camp residents as they grapple with this distressing change by offering consistent psychosocial support in our spaces. 

As we look back on this year, we would like to share an overview of everything we have achieved, thanks to your generous support.

Here’s a look back at the achievements of our Psychosocial Support team in Ritsona Camp since the start of the year! 

From January to November 2021, our Child Friendly Space (CFS) welcomed an average of 99 children per month. In CFS sessions, children aged 3 and 4 years old participate in games, crafts, singalongs, and emotional regulation exercises. At a time of increased isolation and stress, these sessions have proven to be vital, and we’re proud to now be able to provide two sessions a week for each child in this age group. 

Our Youth Engagements Space, a dynamic drop-in space for youth aged 15 and up, offered workshops, recreational activities and informal counseling to an average of 100 residents per month. Workshops included art, bracelet-making, and English language. The youth themselves also led several workshops, sharing their art, photography and technology skills with their peers! Our Youth Online Space platform, created to provide additional support during the lockdown, averaged 75 active users per month while COVID-related restrictions were in place. 

Meanwhile, our Sports Programme continued to offer daily cooperative sports and games to an average of 84 children per month, between the ages of 7 and 12.  Through the Sports Programme, we've also been delighted to offer weekly yoga sessions for Resident Volunteers, as well as for women and girls. Our Football Coach Intern has also been implementing extremely popular daily football sessions!

All of our programmes are made possible thanks to your donations, and supported by our brilliant team of Resident Volunteers - residents of Ritsona Camp who help us to plan and implement programmes. Since January, 24 Resident Volunteers have received training and helped plan and carry out our activities. Several RVs have also led activities, including emotional regulation sessions in the CFS and popular art workshops in the YES!

Thanks to your support, we also successfully launched our Streetwork Project in Athens, and the project continues to grow!

When we set out to launch the Streetwork project in Athens, we knew that an urgent situation was developing on the mainland of Greece. Many asylum seekers and refugees are struggling to find housing, medical support, and legal support. In the past months, we have learnt that these needs are complex, interconnect, and require a holistic and sustained approach. 

Since December, you have enabled us to support over 1,983 families and individuals experiencing various forms of homelessness. This represents over 4,044 people, over 37% of whom were children. We referred 744 cases to our network of 30 partner organisations, and provided sustained, holistic support to 374 complex cases. On over 777 occasions, we supported people with medical concerns, either helping them book an appointment, or referring them to a medical actor. 

Providing people with essential items is also an important part of our project, and our team has distributed over 11,412 non-food items, including nearly 621 baby supplies and over 9,471 hygiene articles, since we started in December. 

In the coming months, we foresee mounting challenges for asylum seekers and refugees in Greece as they contend with increasingly hostile policies, including the building of walls around camps, lack of access to cash assistance, and restrictive asylum policies that could leave thousands in limbo. We are committed to providing sustainable, dignified support as refugees and asylum seekers navigate their next steps. 

On Giving Tuesday we launched our end of year campaign on GlobalGiving. Thank you so much for your generous support. Through December we are fundraising to sustain our operations and support asylum seekers and refugees in transcending the barriers that they face.  As the situation in Greece continues to evolve, we are committed to adapting.

Your continued support will enable us to ensure our programming remains accountable, adaptable, and centered around the needs of the people we serve. Thank you for all that you do to support this cause.

 

Play time in our Child Friendly Space
Play time in our Child Friendly Space
Our Streetwork team facilitates emergency support
Our Streetwork team facilitates emergency support
Basketball practice at our Sports Programme
Basketball practice at our Sports Programme
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Dear Lighthouse Community,

It has been over eight months since we launched our GlobalGiving project to provide critical support to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. The past months have often been difficult but also inspiring and rewarding, as our teams have come together to tackle momentous challenges head on. You have played a vital role in this. 

Just last weekend, donors such as yourself enabled our team to be on hand to provide emergency relief as approximately 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees were evacuated from Malakasa Camp to Ritsona Camp due to dangerous wildfires in the area. Our team worked tirelessly through the weekend, supporting distributions of food and essential items, helping vulnerable families find shelter, and assisting other organisations with coordination and cleaning. On Sunday, the team also assisted with the transfer of residents back to Malakasa, and helped organise a large food distribution in Malakasa Camp. It is moments like these that show us the strength of the international Lighthouse community! 

As we look back on these past months, we  want to share an overview of everything we have been able to achieve, thanks to your generous support. 

Here’s a look back at the achievements of our Psychosocial Support team in Ritsona Camp since the start of the year! 

From January to July 2021, our Child Friendly Space (CFS) welcomed an average of 99 children per month. In CFS sessions, children age 3 and 4 years old participated in games, crafts, singalongs, and emotional regulation exercises. At a time of increased isolation these sessions have proven to be vital, and we’re proud to now be able to provide two sessions a week for each child in this age group. 

Our Youth Engagements Space, a dynamic drop-in space for youth aged 15 and up, offered workshops, games, and sports to an average of 90 residents per month. Workshops included bracelet-making and English language. The youth themselves also led several workshops, sharing their art, photography and technology skills with their peers! Our Youth Online Space platform, created to provide additional support during the lockdown, averaged 75 active users per month while COVID-related restrictions were in place. 

Meanwhile, our Sports Programme continued to offer daily cooperative sports and games to a an average of 50 children per month, between the ages of 7 and 12.  Through the Sports Programme, we've also been delighted to offer weekly yoga sessions for Resident Volunteers, and just recently, daily football sessions led by our Football Intern!

All of our programmes are made possible thanks to your donations, and supported by our brilliant team of Resident Volunteers - residents of Ritsona Camp who help us to plan and implement programmes. Since January, 18 Resident Volunteers have received training and helped plan and carry out our programming. Several have also led activities, including emotional regulation sessions in the CFS and popular art workshops in the YES!

Thanks to your support, we also successfully launched our Streetwork Project in Athens, and the project continues to grow!

Since December, you have enabled us to support over 1,340 families and individuals experiencing various forms of homelessness. This represents over 2,600 people, approximately 40% of whom were children. We referred 466 cases to our network of over 20 partner organisations, and provided sustained, holistic support to 207 complex cases. On over 530 occasions, we supported people with medical concerns, either helping them book an appointment, or referring them to a medical actor. 

Providing people with essential items is also an important part of our project, and our team has distributed over 3,000 non-food items, including 330 baby supplies and over 2,000 hygiene articles. 

When we set out to launch a Streetwork project in Athens, we knew that an urgent situation was developing on the mainland of Greece. Many asylum seekers and refugees have been left without the support they need, struggling to find housing, medical support and legal support. In the past months, we have learned that these needs are complex, interconnect, and require a holistic and sustained approach. 

We also know that the needs will increase.  In September, cash assistance will be cut for asylum seekers who live outside of official structures (such as camps). This cash assistance is a lifeline for asylum seekers, and its loss may push them into ever more precarious positions. 

We are committed to continuing to provide dignified support as they navigate their next steps. 

In the coming months, we foresee mounting challenges for asylum seekers and refugees in Greece as they contend with increasingly hostile policies, including walls around camps, and restrictive asylum policies that could leave thousands in limbo. 

Your continued support will enable us to ensure our programming remains accountable, adaptable, and centered around the needs of the people we serve.

Thank you,

Lighthouse Relief 

Feedback from a CFS parent
Feedback from a CFS parent
Supporting evacuated Malakasa Camp residents
Supporting evacuated Malakasa Camp residents
Chess tournament in the YES
Chess tournament in the YES
RVs supporting CFS programming
RVs supporting CFS programming
Our Athens streetwork monthly distribution
Our Athens streetwork monthly distribution

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On May 15, Greece lifted its national lockdown after more than six months. While the country is now open for tourism, asylum seekers and refugees are facing new challenges. Ritsona Camp is now one of several camps on the mainland around which three meter high concrete walls are being built. While the implications of this new project, partly funded by the European Union, remain unknown, the wall is further increasing the isolation and stress which residents are experiencing. 

Meanwhile, in Athens, as the city resumes its rhythm, people experiencing homelessness are adapting to the post-lockdown summer heat. Thousands of asylum seekers living outside of official structures, are also facing increased precarity in the coming months, as their cash assistance is cut from July 1st. 

Read on for some of the ways we have been supporting forcibly displaced people in Ritsona Camp and Athens, during this difficult time. 

Changes in Ritsona Camp

There have been some big changes in Ritsona Camp over the past weeks, with many new residents arriving from camps on the islands, and others leaving after receiving their asylum decisions. Throughout, we have been welcoming newcomers to our spaces and activities!

In early May, we observed the five year anniversary of our Child Friendly Space (CFS), a safe and creative space that has evolved over the years to meet the needs of young residents. Under our May theme of Animals, children delighted in creating colourful caterpillars, painting brilliant birds, and decorating glittering cats!

The team has also started to introduce new songs, dances, and active games as part of the sessions, including obstacle courses, balancing exercises and fun choreographies!

Our CFS team has also been busy doing outreach to new families with young children, and introducing them to the CFS. There’s been a marked increase in the number of children attending the space, and the team is already seeing great improvements, as they become more familiar with the songs, and structure of the space!

Meanwhile, our team in the Youth Engagement Space (YES) spent the beginning of the month giving the space a much needed summer makeover! With the help of residents and Resident Volunteers, the team set up gazebos to provide shade, and allow for programming to continue outdoors and in a COVID-safe way. 

In the past few days, we’ve set up volleyball nets, much to the delight of residents, and our YES Intern led a new bracelet-making  workshop. There are plans to offer more workshops and sports activities in the coming weeks! 

Over under the shade of the tall evergreens, the Sports Programme has been inviting children aged 9 to 12 join a variety of inclusive games aimed at increasing their cooperation skills. From “fruit salad” to hula hoop races, the sports activities are full of laughter, football, and playful energy!

Once a week, Ioanna, a Greek yoga instructor, comes to Ritsona Camp to lead yoga sessions for Resident Volunteers. These sessions have been a great success, and RVs have been attending regularly, and particularly enjoying the relaxation exercises.

All of these activities have been supported by our amazing team of nine Resident Volunteers. We’re looking forward to welcoming six potential new RVs to the programme, who will receive training and psychosocial support!

Lockdown lifted in Athens

On May 15, the national lockdown was lifted, bringing with it an end to movement restrictions. Shops and restaurants have also reopened. While Athens is returning to its pre-lockdown levels of activity, people experiencing homelessness have been forced to move to new places to avoid the crowds and the intensifying heat.

Over the past month, our Streetwork team has assisted 131 families and individuals, representing a total of 304 people, including 131 children. one of whom was unaccompanied.

In May, 43% of the families and individuals we supported required medical assistance. Our team supports people by scheduling medical appointments, and works with our partners Medical Volunteers International to provide guidance and information about medical care. We also liaise with partners to provide interpreters, without whom people risk being denied the care they need. 

During the month, the team distributed non-food items to 48 families and individuals, as well as 29 food packages consisting of juice, a croissant and a bottle of cold water. In the last week of May, Danish organisation Act for Life joined the team. They raised awareness of the situation in Athens, and created a fundraiser to purchase baby items, shoes, food items, and to support essential services we offer. 

In May alone, the team managed 19 complex cases, providing holistic support and guidance. 28 cases were referred to partner organisations for specialised support. With most shelters at full capacity, and lengthy approval processes the team is proud to have supported three people in finding shelter. 

How you can help!

  • If you would like to voice your objection to the walls being built around Ritsona and other camps across Greece, we invite you sign the petition below.
  • Mark your calendars for an upcoming matching Opportunity on GlobalGiving! Wednesday July 14th is July Bonus day at GlobalGiving. While funds last, all donations over $100 to Lighthouse Relief will be matched!  We will be eligible for up to $3,000 in matching funds and we need your help! Reach out to us at communications@lighthouserelief.org if you’d like to learn more. 
  • Your donations make our programming possible. As the context in Greece becomes ever-more challenging, we need your help to ensure we can continue crucial psychosocial support and emergency response. Visit our GlobalGiving page to make a donation.

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Today, we are delighted to share with you our Annual Report for 2020! 

The report covers the work we've been able to accomplish throughout the year in Ritsona Refugee Camp, Lesvos, and Athens, thanks to your generous donations. 

It also details some of the ways our teams adapted programming to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic: 

  • The Youth Engagement Space launched its Online Youth Space in April, providing workshops (including language, arts, and sports), as well as psychosocial support remotely. 
  • The Child Friendly Space shifted its programming to focus on three and four year old children - who otherwise have no access to early childhood development activities.  From October through December, the CFS provided a safe environment for 69 children to play and socialise per week.  
  • We launched a new, formalised version of our Resident Volunteer Programme, engaging members of the community in our programming, and ensuring that it is accountable to the community. In the second half of the year, we offered four trainings, including in Child Protection and Conflict Resolution, and inducted 11 Resident Volunteers. 
  • After suspending our programming on Lesvos, we launched a Streetwork project in Athens, providing holistic support to asylum seekers and refugees experiencing homelessness. In the pilot phase, we supported 145 families and individuals experiencing various forms of homelessness.

You can read our full Annual Report here.

You can also watch this short video with some highlights from the year. 

None of this would have been possible without you. Your vital support has empowered us to innovate in our programming, to better serve the forcibly displaced communities in Greece. 

On behalf of the entire team at Lighthouse Relief, we would like to thank you for your generous support, which enables us to continue providing dignified support to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, during this pandemic and beyond. 

In the past months, we have welcomed spring in Ritsona Camp and Athens. In Ritsona, we are continuing to provide psychosocial support to residents, as they face the challenges and uncertainty of displacement. In Athens, we are continuing to build our Streetwork project, working with partner organisations to provide support - including to over 197 individuals and families in April. We look forward to sharing more regular updates with you this year, to give you even more insight into how your donations are making a difference.

From all of us at Lighthouse Relief - thank you for your support. 

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Organization Information

Lighthouse Relief

Location: Solna - Sweden
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @LighthouseRR
Project Leader:
Chloe Esposito
Vallingby/Stockholm, Sweden
$94,870 raised of $150,000 goal
 
780 donations
$55,130 to go
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