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
English workshops relaunch in the YES
An Expanded Youth Engagement Space