Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece

by Lighthouse Relief
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece
Help LHR Continue its Vital Programming in Greece

Today, we invite you to take a look at the work we’ve been able to achieve so far in 2021 thanks to your invaluable support. 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. 

Last month, 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 through August 2021, our Child Friendly Space (CFS) welcomed an average of 98 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 91 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 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 1,478 families and individuals experiencing various forms of homelessness. This represents over 2,700 people, over 40% of whom were children. We referred 512 cases to our network of over 20 partner organisations, and provided sustained, holistic support to 207 complex cases. On over 590 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 4,000 non-food items, including nearly 400 baby supplies and over 3,000 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 July, cash assistance was 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 many 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.

Supporting the Malakasa evacuees
Supporting the Malakasa evacuees
Feedback from a CFS parent
Feedback from a CFS parent
RVs supporting our CFS
RVs supporting our CFS
Art workshop in the YES
Art workshop in the YES
Ritsona Football Tournament
Ritsona Football Tournament
Streetwork monthly distribution
Streetwork monthly distribution

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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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Happy Holidays from the CFS team!
Happy Holidays from the CFS team!

A happy and healthy New Year from all of us at Lighthouse Relief! 

As we take stock of all we have been able to achieve over the past year, in spite of the enormous challenges we have faced, we know none of this would have been possible without your steadfast support.

As we enter the second month of 2021, we are happy to share this update on what you have enabled us to achieve in the past few months. Since our last report, we have been busy, both in Ritsona Camp and in Athens, where we launched a brand new Emergency Response Project to meet urgent needs on the mainland. 

Ritsona Camp: Providing Crucial Psychosocial Support through a National Lockdown

When we last reached out to you, we shared that Ritsona Camp faced another lockdown in September. Though we were able to restart our activities in October, Greece implemented its second national lockdown in November. Thanks to our team’s strong reputation for COVID-safe policies across all our programming, we were granted permission to continue our Child Friendly Space and Youth Engagement Space in Ritsona Camp despite the lockdown. With the vital help of our Resident Volunteers, we have been able to provide safe and supportive spaces for children aged three and four, as well as youth aged 15 and up, to socialise, learn and express themselves. 

This is the third lockdown for camp residents, and it has further increased their stress and isolation. It has been a very difficult year and challenging past few months for residents in the camp, and the increased stress risks can take a toll on the mental health of an already vulnerable group. 

In our Child Friendly Space, our team is holding activities indoors and enforcing strict sanitation procedures, as well as mask-wearing and “washy washy,” otherwise known as hand sanitisation. In the past months, we welcomed an average of 67 children weekly, ages 3 and 4, who delighted in colourful crafts-making activities, singing songs, as well as discovering the various toys and books selected by our team to help stimulate their imaginations.

In addition to this, Resident Volunteers, with the support of the Resident Volunteer Programme Facilitator, and CFS staff, have been facilitating emotional regulation exercises for the children in the space. These take the form of playful and engaging activities which introduce simple breathing and stretching exercises, to give the children some basic tools to quiet their minds, relax their muscles and reduce stress. 

The psychosocial support we provide has been especially crucial in these past months. The majority of children in the camp have not had access to a single day of formal education in 2020. Our team is determined to continue to provide the highest quality informal learning and play to these young residents at such a crucial stage of their development.

In our Youth Engagement Space, we continue to provide a space for residents to unwind, socialise and receive informal support. The YES team were happy to continue to offer support through their drop-in center and activities such as chess, table tennis and the ever-popular foosball. English language workshops, meanwhile, have continued on the Youth Online Space, where our YES Facilitator is also gathering and sharing resources, including an online library where residents can access books and other materials in English, French, Arabic and Farsi. 

As with the CFS, Resident Volunteers are playing a vital role in ensuring the running of the YES. From helping the team to manage the space, and ensuring the respect of anti-COVID measures such as mask-wearing and regular hand sanitising, to facilitating their own creative workshops, the RVs are invaluable to our team. 

In the past months, we have been particularly inspired to see how our newly formalised Resident Volunteer Programme continues to grow. RVs have participated in trainings on topics such as  Emotional Regulation, Conflict Mediation, and Workshop Facilitation These trainings support them in their roles, while equipping them with tools that can help them build towards their futures. They are a crucial part of our programming, strengthening our relationship with the community and enriching our activities, ensuring that activities are accountable and culturally sensitive.  

Our Emergency Response Team Launches a new Project to Support Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Athens

Since we formally ceased our operations on Lesvos, our Emergency Response (ER) team has been working tirelessly to pivot our operations to meet increased needs on the Greek mainland. In the past months, they undertook an in-depth research process, meeting with a dozen other organisations doing important work all across Greece, with the aim of identifying the most pressing needs for refugees, and any operational gaps that exist. It was clear that significant needs were developing on the mainland, in particular for recognised refugees. 

In March 2020, the Greek government cut the support that refugees could access after they receive a positive asylum decision. Whereas refugees previously had six months of financial and housing support in order to find their own accommodation, get a social security number, and seek employment, they now only have 30 days to do so.

When this new regulation took effect at the end of May, over 11,000 refugees in these so-called “exit schemes” were left without any support — with even their scarce cash assistance taken away, and were forced to seek housing in the middle of a pandemic. Many recognised refugees, including thousands transferred from the islands, were left struggling with homelessness, living on the streets in the middle of a crowded square in Athens. 

In response, our team designed a pilot project deploying a skilled streetwork team to provide support to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants experiencing homelessness or living in precarious conditions. In December, we launched the pilot phase of this project, setting out to provide vulnerable people with essential items, information, and referral to other services. Through the month-long pilot phase, the ER team supported a total of 145 people, including 61 families, distributing 45 non-food items and 166 “first contact” kits, including croissants and juice. 

These needs will only increase this year, as asylum seekers are transferred to the mainland and asylum procedures are sped up.  

In the coming months, we will continue to build out our programming in Ritsona Camp, and re-launch our Sports Programme, targeting children aged six to 15. In Athens, we continue to help vulnerable individuals, including refugees, and asylum seekers, taking the learnings from our pilot phase to strengthen our approach. On an organisational level, we are in the process of developing a three-year strategic plan, which will consolidate our mission and chart the next 36 months of our programming.

Finally, we would like to thank you for everything you do to make this work possible. We look to the future with optimism,  knowing that with your support, we are stronger and more determined than ever.  

COVID-safe guidelines in the YES
COVID-safe guidelines in the YES
Our Athens Streetwork team during a distribution
Our Athens Streetwork team during a distribution
LHR's Emergency Response Streetwork team
LHR's Emergency Response Streetwork team
A Resident Volunteer in our CFS
A Resident Volunteer in our CFS
Emotional Regulation sessions in the CFS
Emotional Regulation sessions in the CFS

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The last months in Greece have been marked by momentous shifts for asylum seekers and refugees; from COVID-19 restrictions to increased insecurity on the Aegean Islands, 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 suspended our in-person programming in Ritsona Camp and on Lesvos due to COVID-19 restrictions. On Lesvos, a small team of our long term volunteers remained 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.

The last few months have seen unprecedented challenges in Ritsona, for residents and for our team. Throughout the suspension of our in-person activities, we continued to support the residents of the camp in any way we could - establishing an online support space, and supporting partners in camp in a large food basket distribution. As lockdown measures began to ease in Greece in the late summer, our team was thrilled to be able to return to relaunch our in-person activities in Ritsona Camp in early August.

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 is safe and socially distant, integrating more seating areas to accommodate the growing number of youth in the space since the expansion of 2020

When we launched our in-person activities in the Child Friendly Space, we also made significant changes to ensure that our programming would be safe and COVID-19 friendly. 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 safe, our CFS team cleans and sanitises 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 Lighthouse Relief's 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 cases of Corona in the camp. Throughout this time, we have been preparing for restarting our activities 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.

Lesvos: Increasing Insecurity & Uncertainty for Asylum Seekers & Refugees

In the past seven months, we have contended with some of the most significant challenges of our five years on Lesvos.

In March, asylum seekers arriving to the north shore were also impacted by preventative measures against Coronavirus; we continued to search for ways that we could continue to support them. Due to the extremely high tensions in early March, we had suspended our emergency response programme, and we had to continue this suspension due to preventative measures against COVID-19. During this time, new arrivals were often kept for weeks in isolated areas on the north shore for a mandatory quarantine period, without access to running water, or suitable accommodation. Due to the Coronavirus restrictions, we could not directly access new arrivals, so we provided food, clothes, and other items to the people through one of our partners in the north who was permitted to access these sites.

In May 2020, the situation changed further for people arriving on the north shore. An area on the north shore that was built in 2015 as a camp started to be used as a quarantine area. Anyone who arrived was tested for COVID-19, and then transferred to this quarantine camp at Apanemo to stay two weeks - though some groups stayed well over a month. The camp remains an extremely low-resource setting, with no running water or electricity, little access to medical care, and difficulty in isolating from other people; only the authorities and UNHCR had access to this facility. After this quarantine period, people were transferred to the south of the island where they could register their asylum claims.

Through this time, we were able to consistently provide packs of essential items to people waiting in the quarantine camp (distributed by a partner). Since May, at least 504 people stayed at this quarantine camp, according to UNHCR numbers. One quarter of them were under 18. In order to support new mothers and the specific nutritional needs of newborns and young children, we were able to provide packs including baby milk, baby bottles, diapers and other hygiene items (also with a donation of items from another NGO on the island).

In early September, asylum seekers on Lesvos were pushed into an even more precarious situation 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, and continued to advocate for a swift, humane and safe solution for people staying on the streets of Lesvos. 

A Difficult Decision for Our Lesvos Team

Unfortunately, as the changes we described reflect, the process for people arriving to Lesvos has become increasingly militarised. 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.

With these changes, the role of NGOs like ours in the context of arrivals became extremely limited. Though we 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 the village of 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. 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.

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
The YES team & youth working on reconstruction
The YES team & youth working on reconstruction
Interactive Storytelling in the CFS
Interactive Storytelling in the CFS
Essential items for new arrivals to Lesvos
Essential items for new arrivals to Lesvos
Water & baby food delivered after Moria fires
Water & baby food delivered after Moria fires

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In January 2020, our teams in Lesvos and Ritsona anticipated many challenges in the year to come - such as the expansion of Ritsona Refugee camp, where we operate in mainland Greece. 

However, we could not have predicted the many challenges that the year was holding for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as for our operations. From escalating tensions on Lesvos, to the global Coronavirus pandemic, LHR worked through these unprecedented obstacles, continuing to assist refugees in Greece in any way possible, while keeping in mind the safety of our staff, volunteers, and people we work with. 

In the last weeks of February, we witnessed local communities protesting the building of new detention centres on the north of the island, followed by escalating tensions, threats and violence against asylum seekers, journalists, and humanitarian workers. The situation on Lesvos arose due to an institutional failure to respond, both to the demands of Greek community members who felt, and continue to feel, abandoned by national and EU-level leadership, and the needs of asylum seekers currently confined to the island, merely seeking dignified living conditions and pursuing their rights.  

As the situation escalated on the island, Lighthouse Relief evacuated our volunteers and paused our primary operations. After the evacuation, a core team remained on Lesvos, focusing on coordinating with other organizations working with refugees and asylum seekers to ensure new arrivals could access items from LHR’s stock such as blankets, dry food, and clothing. 

Although the tensions on Lesvos have eased during March, the Coronavirus restrictions implemented by the Greek government meant a further suspension of our operations on the island. During this time, and with respect to these measures, our team members on Lesvos were not in direct contact with new arrivals to the island, instead, providing items through one of our partners on the north shore, including boxes of clothes, food, and other necessities. 

When restrictive measures to stem Coronavirus were implemented in Greece on March 9th, LHR also implemented changes to our programming in Ritsona Camp,  decreasing the number of people allowed in our spaces, implementing social distancing measures, displaying Coronavirus safety posters in the spaces, while distributing sanitiser to the residents in our spaces.

Shortly thereafter, we decided to suspend our physical operations in Ritsona, starting on March 16th for the safety of the residents and volunteers. The team has found other ways to support the community in Ritsona remotely, including creating the Youth Online Space (YOS), an online support group to keep engaging with the youth in Ritsona Camp, through music, arts, and English lessons, among other activities. Moreover, LHR donated items as well as parts of its unused camp budget in the camp to Cafe Rits, another organisation present in Ritsona Camp, in order to supplement their food and hygiene distribution. 

Throughout this time, we also published our 2019 Annual Report, which highlights the achievements and challenges that our teams faced in Ritsona and Lesvos, with our team in Ritsona reaching 55% of residents through the year, and our team in Lesvos assisting 54% of arrivals. We are more committed than ever to continuing this important work. 

Currently, as we are planning our return to operating in Ritsona and Lesvos, many changes to our programming will be implemented, such as including protective gear (masks, gloves), Water and Sanitation protocols, including using frequent use of hand sanitiser, as well as distributing crafts to children of the camp. Our continued work has been possible through your steadfast support to LHR and our mission of providing dignified support to refugees and asylum seekers.

Food distribution in Ritsona camp by Cafe Rits
Food distribution in Ritsona camp by Cafe Rits
YES intern Anna giving online singing lesson
YES intern Anna giving online singing lesson
Food distribution to partners on Lesvos
Food distribution to partners on Lesvos

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Organization Information

Lighthouse Relief

Location: Solna - Sweden
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Twitter: @LighthouseRR
Project Leader:
Marie-Hélène Rousseau
Solna, Sweden
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