Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece

by Lighthouse Relief
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece
Advance Relief Efforts for Refugees in Greece

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.

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 - and why we believe that it is more important than ever to continue providing support to people seeking asylum in Greece.

A Difficult Decision for Our Lesvos Team

In the spring and summer of 2020 we witnessed a series of upheavals on Lesvos, impacting the security and human rights of asylum seekers and refugees. 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 other organisations on the north shore, also further expanding 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. After much deliberation and painful discussions, we 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.

As we concluded our Lesvos programmes, we focused on distributing needed items from our warehouse in the north to other organisations across the island. We also worked to transfer some of our remaining stock of clothes to the community-run warehouse in Ritsona Camp, where they are sorely needed. Today, we are identifying the biggest needs across Greece, assessing how we can respond to the short-term and the long-term needs, which are vast and multi-faceted. We look forward to sharing the next steps for our Emergency Response operations with you in the future.

Adapting to Challenges in Ritsona Camp

In Ritsona Camp our team has relaunched psychosocial support activities after two successive lockdowns in the spring and the fall. Thanks to your support, we have been able to make some much needed changes to the space, and to offer new trainings for our Resident Volunteers under our formalised Resident Volunteer Programme!

When we returned to camp in July, 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.

After several weeks of lockdown in September, both our spaces reopened. In the YES, we were thrilled to be able to resume in-person English Workshops. After months of learning through the Youth Online Space (YOS), Ritsona residents have been eager to practice in person! To ensure they are COVID-safe, workshops are being held with a limited number of participants, and mask-wearing and hand sanitisation are enforced. While rebuilding the space, the YES also adopted strategies to make sure that our programming remained safe and socially distant, expanding the space and adding more seating areas. 

In the CFS, we have also been delighted to welcome three and four year old Ritsona residents, engaging them in fun and creative activities. 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. Our young guests are invited to partake in art activities, where they craft a variety of items thanks to which they are being introduced to emotional regulation activities for the first time.

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!

Our Resident Volunteers (RVs) 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! Our Resident Volunteer Facilitator has been offering training and support to RVs, to help them acquire the tools to facilitate activities in the spaces.

Finally, we are in the midst of relaunching a much-awaited new Sports Programme for Ritsona residents aged 6 to 15! The youth had been itching to get back on the fields and courts to play with their friends, and this week we have been able to welcome them back, in a COVID-safe way. The new Sports Programme will be built around three types of activities: traditional sports, inclusive sports and finally inclusive activities, with the goal of exploring social topics such as diversity, collaboration and fair-play.

Your support spurs us on

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 continually adapt in order to provide 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.

Donations arrive in Ritsona Camp from Lesvos
Donations arrive in Ritsona Camp from Lesvos
English workshops relaunch in the YES
English workshops relaunch in the YES
An Expanded Youth Engagement Space
An Expanded Youth Engagement Space

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A volunteer on spotting shift at night (2019)
A volunteer on spotting shift at night (2019)

In September 2017, when we called on the Lighthouse Relief community to support this fundraiser, our teams were unsure whether we would be able to make it through the winter months. With your help, in the past years, we have raised over 83,800€ - funds that supported us as we overcame challenges we could not have imagined. 

Throughout the past three months, the situation in Greece has faced dramatic changes, with the Coronavirus pandemic forcing many NGOs to suspend in-person programming, and locking down refugees and asylum seekers in camps. While our in-person activities were largely suspended in the last months, we remained committed to finding ways to support displaced people in limbo in Greece. Read on to find out more about the impact of your support in Ritson and Lesvos. 

Lesvos: continued support to new arrivals

Since the creation of this fundraiser, we have assisted over 22,500 people landing on the north shore of Lesvos. In particular, the summer of 2019 saw an extraordinary increase in arrivals, with numbers remaining high until the end of the year. In that year alone, our emergency response teams supported over 14,500 men, women and children as they arrived after a dangerous crossing. Day and night, on the beaches of north Lesvos, LHR volunteers encountered fear, relief, panic, happiness, tears and hope - they responded with professionalism, comforting distressed people and handing out much-needed items: emergency blankets, water, dry clothes, and warm blankets.

2020 has proven to be one of our most challenging years to date. In the beginning of the year, we had to adapt our operations to the closure of Stage 2, a transit facility that, for years, had provided respite and a warm place to recover for people landing on the north shore. In early March, we evacuated our volunteers from Lesvos due to escalating tensions on the island, leaving behind a small team of long term volunteers to support new arrivals with essential items, in coordination with our partners on the north shore. 

With the rise of the Coronavirus pandemic, strict preventative measures were put in place throughout Greece to limit the spread. Though our small team of volunteers could not have direct access to new arrivals, we continued to support them through our partners.  

Ritsona: Remote Support & Digital Space For Youth 

Thanks to your support throughout the years, we have been able to continue providing psychosocial support in our safe spaces for children and youth in Ritsona Camp, now home to almost 3,000 people - more than four times its population in 2017. In 2019, we reached 55 percent of the camp’s residents through our Youth Engagement and Child Friendly spaces. 

The last few months have also seen unprecedented challenges in Ritsona, for residents and for our team. On March 16, as the pandemic swept through Europe, our team made the difficult decision to suspend our physical operations in camp for the safety of residents and volunteers, and in accordance with government measures. 

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 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.

Gearing Up For Restart

Incidents in the past two years remind us of the dangers of the routes people have to go through to seek safety - proving again and again the dire need for safe and legal pathways to asylum. As people fleeing conflict and persecution face more and more risks in their attempts to find safety, we arereminded of our mission, and we remain just as committed to remaining in Greece for as long as we are needed, a promise made by LHR founders back in 2015.

Both on Lesvos and Ritsona, our teams are planning ways to restart our in-person activities. We are currently gearing up to launch our ECO Relief project for 2020, through which we support the local community by cleaning the beaches of Lesvos. In Ritsona, our teams are planning to restart their in-person activities in August of 2020, while continuing to provide support through our Youth Online Space. 

As we look to challenges ahead, we are extremely grateful for your steadfast support through the years, and especially throughout these trying months. From the entire LHR team - thank you!

Clothes packs prepared for new arrivals on Lesvos
Clothes packs prepared for new arrivals on Lesvos
YES facilitator Colleen teaching through the YOS
YES facilitator Colleen teaching through the YOS
Food distribution in Ritsona with Cafe Rits
Food distribution in Ritsona with Cafe Rits

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Shoreline distribution on Lesvos
Shoreline distribution on Lesvos

Throughout the last three months, our teams on Lesvos and Ritsona have faced some of the most difficult situations we have encountered in over four years of providing a humanitarian response in Greece. Thanks to your help, we  continued working tirelessly to support people arriving on the north shore of Lesvos, and provide psychosocial support for youth and children in the Ritsona Camp. 

In the first week of January, Ritsona Camp underwent a significant expansion, which increased the number of residents from 950 at the end of December 2019 to around 3,000 in the beginning of March. This increased the demand for our services, and the number of participants in our spaces - the YES, a hub of creative activity, sport, and conversation, has been hosting 125 to 135 people every day, almost double the number of people we welcomed to the space in December. At the Child Friendly Space, we have also been welcoming many more children every day, and we have been fortunate to welcome new Resident Volunteers as well as short-term volunteers. 

During December, Lighthouse Relief assisted 2034 people arriving on the north shore of Lesvos, and in January, we supported 834 people. However, on January 31st, Stage 2, the facility hosting asylum seekers upon arrival was closed down, leaving them without shelter upon arrival. We immediately shifted our operations to ensure that we could continue supporting people on arrival, establishing a distribution team that would provide blankets, clothes, and dry food to people in the freezing weather. 

At the end of February and early March, tensions escalated precipitously across the island of Lesvos, and amidst the ongoing situation, we made the difficult decision to temporarily pause our primary operations and evacuate our volunteers. We continue to find ways that we can support the local community on the north shore until we can fully resume our activities. During this time, we have been horrified by the human rights violations we have witnessed or heard about -- threats, violence and accusations directed at humanitarian workers, journalists, asylum seekers, and members of the local community who are supportive of asylum seekers. We vehemently call on the European Union to uphold basic human rights and relocate people trapped on the Aegean Islands. To read our full statement, you can visit us online here.  

Despite these ongoing challenges to our operations, we are committed to continue offering a dignified humanitarian response. With the European Union’s failure to provide safe passage for people who are fleeing conflict and persecution, your continuous support is more vital than ever.

LHR's shoreline distribution upon arrival
LHR's shoreline distribution upon arrival
Tennis sessions in Ritsona Camp
Tennis sessions in Ritsona Camp
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With summer winding down, and winter approaching, the past few months have been full of activity for our teams on Lesvos and in Ritsona Refugee Camp. In addition to preparing for winter, Lighthouse Relief has been responding to the growing need for emergency aid on the north shore, and psychosocial support in Ritsona Camp.

Throughout the autumn, our presence on the north shore of Lesvos has proven to be crucial. Despite rain, cold, and rough seas, people continue to arrive to Lesvos, seeking safety. Since the start of September, we have provided support upon arrival and/or at the UNHCR stage 2 transit camp to over 6,700 people.

We ensure that people arriving can access safe and fast assistance on arrival. After helping them to disembark, we provide emergency blankets, dry food and water. In Stage 2, we provide dry clothes, hot tea, as well as hospitality, warmth and some moments of rest after the difficult journey. In November alone, we supported over 2,000 people arriving to Lesvos, over half of whom were under 18. So far in 2019, Lighthouse Relief has supported over 12,500 people arriving to Lesvos.

Meanwhile, in Central Greece, Ritsona Refugee Camp continues to expand, and we are seeing new faces in our Child Friendly Space and our Youth Engagement Space everyday. In September, we presented the ninth edition of the Ritsona Kingdom Journal, another showcase for the talent of the youth, who contributed art, poetry, and prose to its pages. Several talented actors in the camp also worked with one of our skilled volunteers to create two short films  including "A Dream," a film that touches on our shared humanity, and the universal language of dreams.

In our Child Friendly Space, our team is continuing to engage the young residents in structured play and activities. Our team is consistently amazed by the works of art that the children create alongside their peers -- during "Music Week" in the space, they created microphones out of toilet paper rolls, and bells from paper cups, just one example of their creativity and ingenuity.   

With winter around the corner on the mainland, our Child Friendly Space team worked with young residents of the camp to restructure, clean, and beautify our indoor spaces! Several of the camp's artists conceived of new art for our CFS, using stencils and spray paint to meticulously create bright and colorful scenes on the indoor and outdoor walls. Ritsona Camp will grow significantly in the new year, and our Resident Volunteers have been crucial to our ability to be prepared for this expansion. 

In addition to showcasing their creativity, children and youth in the camp have been actively engaging in our regular sports programming, playing vigorous matches of table tennis, football games with a local UEFA-certified coach, yoga sessions, badminton and tennis. 

At the end of September, we also observed a milestone -- our four year anniversary. On September 28, 2015, Lighthouse Relief's founders joined forces on Lesvos, pledging to remain as long as they were needed. We are still here, on the shore, and on the mainland, supporting people arriving, and people awaiting asylum. We could not do this work without your support, and we are deeply grateful - thank you. 

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29 August Landings
29 August Landings

"I don’t own an ID, or a passport,

I’m anonymous, staring at the sky, giving speeches to the moon,

I search for myself...I have lost it...

When the lookout cried out,

they hid, for the Patrol had come.

 

I am from Iraq and Syria and Egypt.. I am from Lebanon and Palestine and Kurdistan,

I reclined on a rock in the forest,

I protected myself from the rainfall under an olive tree,

I waited for a boat to take me,

I waited for a wave to carry me,

To a country without peril.

 

I am anonymous, searching for a sanctuary,

For a title, for a name,

For a picture chosen,

from thousands of pictures.

I’m a refugee, like thousands of humans."

Adnan - LHR Resident Volunteer, Ritsona (Ritsona Kingdom Journal)

 

The last month has been a busy one for Lighthouse Relief, both in Lesvos, where arrival numbers hit a three-year high, and in Ritsona, where young people in the Youth Engagement space have been hard at work on the 9th edition of the Ritsona Kingdom Journal.

So far this year, our team on Lesvos has provided assistance to over 6000 new arrivals. Almost half of these landed in August, the busiest month for over three years. The 2019 ECO Project kicked off in July. So far, volunteers have collected a total of 479 bags, 32 dinghies and 953 lifejackets from 12km of the island’s stunning coastline.

On Thursday, 29 August, 13 dinghies landed in under 30 minutes on the same short stretch of beach on the north shore. The spotters at Lepetimnos alerted the North Shore Response Group, and our landing team was on the beach to provide first assistance. Although the team has been doing an incredible job, working tirelessly day and night, the need to attend simultaneous landings, rapidly restock our distribution tent and maintain equipment has put an additional strain on our resources.

It's been a sweltering summer in Ritsona camp, but children and young people aged 3 to 28 continue to pour into our spaces, braving the heat to take part in football sessions and art workshops or simply have a chat. In the CFS, we've been lucky to have a constant stream of visitors, from Clowns Without Borders to the Wind-up Penguin Theatre Companies - hours of fun that put smiles on the children’s faces. 

In the YES, dozens of young people have been hard at work on their submissions to the new issue of the Ritsona Kingdom Journal, drafting articles, putting the finishing touches to paintings and chasing the perfect photo. The launch party took place on 3 September and was attended by family, friends and other actors in camp. The magazine will be published on our platforms in coming days.

CFS Mini Basket
CFS Mini Basket
Lesvos Landing
Lesvos Landing
LHR ECO Project
LHR ECO Project
CFS Eid Activities
CFS Eid Activities

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Organization Information

Lighthouse Relief

Location: Solna - Sweden
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @LighthouseRR
Project Leader:
Marie-Hélène Rousseau
Solna, Sweden
$99,269 raised of $111,000 goal
 
1,399 donations
$11,731 to go
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