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

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

Over the past year, our teams adapted programming to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, including: 

  • 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.

We started this project in 2017, as the situation for refugees in Greece was fading from the world’s attention. You stepped up to provide vital support to us at the most pivotal moment. Through the years, you have made it possible for us to achieve so much - to launch multiple editions of the Ritona Kingdom Journal; to start our Resident Volunteer Programme; to provide support to people seeking safety on the north shore of Lesvos, upon their arrival, and at Stage 2 Transit Camp, especially when arrivals increased dramatically in the summer of 2019. 

Today, we are closing this project in order to focus our efforts on our current GlobalGiving campaign, which addresses the most current and pressing needs in Greece. Your monthly donations are still very much needed, and will be carried over to our current project “Critical Support for Refugees in Greece”, and will continue to support our programming, offering relief to asylum seekers and refugees in Ritsona Camp and Athens. 

We have come a long way, and achieved some amazing things since launching this campaign, but there remains so much to be done. The recent pandemic has only highlighted the severe injustices which forcibly displaced people face every day in Greece, including tenuous access to housing, education and healthcare. They continue to wait for increasing periods of time for their asylum requests to be processed, many in camps now surrounded by walls, and once their refugee status is recognised, they find themselves without any support after only 30 days, having to navigate complicated Greek bureaucracy to access their basic rights. 

Lighthouse Relief continues to shine a light of compassion, providing dignified, sustainable and accountable support to the most vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees. We couldn’t have gotten this far without your support. But there is still further to go.

Sincerely, 

The Entire Team at Lighthouse Relief 

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Athens after a recent spell of snow
Athens after a recent spell of snow

The whole team at Lighthouse Relief would like to wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

In spite of the enormous challenges we faced over the past year, we have been able to persevere in providing much needed support to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece - we could not have done this without you. 

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 for refugees struggling with homelessness. The winter months have posed many challenges for asylum seekers and refugees in Greece, amidst an ongoing national lockdown. A few weeks ago, Athens and the surrounding areas were blanketed in snow. For isolated and under-resourced camps in the Athens area, heavy snowfall can worsen already difficult living conditions. Meanwhile in Athens, snow means that people experiencing homelessness face an even more urgent need to find shelters.

Read on to learn about our activities in recent months, and how you've enabled us to provide support at a challenging time.  

Ritsona Camp: Providing Crucial Psychosocial Support through a National Lockdown

In November of 2020, Greece implemented its second national lockdown. Thanks to our team’s strong reputation for COVID-safe policies across all our programming, we were granted permission to continue our 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. 

In our Child Friendly Space, our team is holding activities indoors and enforcing strict sanitation procedures, as well as mask-wearing. 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 holding emotional regulation exercises for the children in the space. These are playful and engaging activities introducing 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 ongoing lockdown, which is now entering in its fourth month, is the third lockdown for camp residents, and it has further increased their stress and isolation. The increased stress and risks can take a toll on the mental health of an already vulnerable group. 

In addition, 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. 

In the past months, we have been particularly inspired to see how our Resident Volunteer Programme continues to grow. RVs have supported both of our spaces, and participated in training 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. Our RV Programme Facilitator has also been working on a range of activities to help RVs develop positive coping mechanisms, introducing practices such as art therapy, gratitude practice and mindfulness.  Our Resident Volunteer programme ensures that our activities are shaped by those we serve, and ensures the sustainability of our work. 

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. 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. 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 Athens, we continue to help vulnerable individuals, including refugees, and asylum seekers, taking the learnings from our pilot phase to strengthen our approach. 

In the coming months, we will continue to build out our programming in Ritsona Camp and in Athens. 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. We look forward to sharing further updates on all our programming in our next report!

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.  

First month impact for Streetwork Pilot Project
First month impact for Streetwork Pilot Project
Activities in the CFS
Activities in the CFS
Drawing activities with Resident Volunteers
Drawing activities with Resident Volunteers
Our Streetwork Pilot Project team
Our Streetwork Pilot Project team
The Youth Engagement Space in Ritsona Camp
The Youth Engagement Space in Ritsona Camp
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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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Organization Information

Lighthouse Relief

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

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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