Oct 29, 2020

Offering Relief in Challenging Times

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

Links:

Oct 15, 2020

Five Years of Adapting to Challenges 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. As we mark the five year anniversary of the founding of Lighthouse Relief, we take stock of these changes, and all that we have been able to achieve thanks to your support. Today, 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 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.

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.

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 remained safe and socially distant, integrating more seating areas to accommodate the growing number of youth in the space since the recent expansion. As lockdown measures began to ease in Greece in the late summer, our team was thrilled to be able to relaunch our in-person activities in Ritsona Camp in early August.

When we launched our in-person activities in the Child Friendly Space, we also made significant changes to ensure that our programming would be COVID-19 safe. 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 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!

Another exciting development in the past months has been the launching of our formalised 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 Coronavirus cases in the camp. However, we took this as an opportunity to further clean, decorate and weatherproof our spaces 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.

This week, we have been able to re-start our programming in the CFS, offering activities to Ritsona Camp’s young residents aged 3 and 4. We have also reopened parts of the YES, holding an in-person English workshop outdoors, with masks mandatory! Thanks to your support, we were able to ensure that all activities were carried out in strict compliance with hygiene and sanitation guidelines.

Lesvos: A Difficult Decision for Our Lesvos Team Amidst Increasing Insecurity 

In the past few months, we have witnessed a series of upheavals on Lesvos, impacting the security and human rights of asylum seekers and refugees. In order to demonstrate the impact of your support, we would like to share with you some of the challenges that we have faced on the island since June, and some of the ways in which we have responded.

Unfortunately, the process for people arriving to Lesvos has undergone significant changes, becoming increasingly militarised. Since May, upon arrival, people are taken to a quarantine camp located in the north of Lesvos - an extremely low-resource setting to which only the authorities and the UNHCR have access. In addition, and 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.

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 another orgnaisation on the north shore. Our Logistics Officer also further expanded 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. Though we have 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 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. We also worked to transfer some of our remaining stock of clothes and NFIs to the community-run warehouse in Ritsona Camp, from where it can be redistributed. 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. We look forward to sharing the next steps for our Emergency Response operations with you in the future.

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
Interactive Storytelling in the CFS
Interactive Storytelling in the CFS
The YES team & youth working on reconstruction
The YES team & youth working on reconstruction
Water & baby food delivered after Moria fires
Water & baby food delivered after Moria fires
In-person English classes relaunched in the YES
In-person English classes relaunched in the YES

Links:

Oct 6, 2020

Transforming Our Vital Programming in Trying Times

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

Links:

 
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