Jul 7, 2020

Five years of overcoming challenges in Greece

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

Links:

Jun 25, 2020

Facing Unexpected Challenges on the Shore and Beyond

In the first half of 2020, our teams on Lesvos and in Ritsona Camp have had to face unprecedented challenges. While we had braced for a demanding year - kicked off with an expansion of Ritsona Camp and the closure of a crucial transit facility in the north of Lesvos - the past months have proven to be some of the most challenging since Lighthouse Relief was formed five years ago.

From heightened tensions in the Aegean islands to the global COVID19 pandemic, LHR has been forced to adapt to unexpected obstacles. In this difficult context, displaced people were left more vulnerable than ever - and our teams worked tirelessly to find innovative ways to provide them with continued support. Today, as we tentatively restart our operations in Greece with your steadfast support, we will continue to adapt and implement necessary changes to our programmes.

In the last days of February, following intense protests against the building of detention centres on the Aegean islands, tensions on Lesvos reached a peak. With reports of threats and attacks on asylum seekers, humanitarian workers and journalists, the situation quickly escalated, prompting our team to evacuate our volunteers and suspend our primary emergency response operations. Our core team of long-term volunteers remained on the island, coordinating with other actors and partners on the north shore to continue providing new arrivals with blankets, clothes, dry food and other essential items.

In the meantime, as the Coronavirus pandemic swept through Europe, our team in Ritsona Camp had to implement changes to our programming, limiting the number of visitors to our spaces and encouraging hygiene and sanitation measures. 

On March 16th, with the Greek government enforcing preventative lockdown measures to stem the spread of the virus, we decided to suspend our physical operations in camp for the safety of residents and volunteers. 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 support 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.

Our remaining team members on Lesvos were also impacted by preventative measures against Coronavirus. In respect of the lockdown measures and the safety of the local community, our team avoided all direct contact with new arrivals, resorting to making our stock accessible to other actors in the north and providing food, clothes and other items to new arrivals through one of our partners. On social networks, LHR’s communications team continued to document and inform about the ongoing situation for people landing in the north of the island, even as groups were transported to a closed quarantine facility.

As lockdown measures are lifting throughout Europe, and Greece cautiously opens its borders, we are now looking to restart our operations as soon as possible, taking into consideration all necessary safety precautions. Our teams are working on implementing changes to our programming to ensure the safety of volunteers, residents and new arrivals - including protective gear, and water and sanitation protocols. Meanwhile, we continue to provide non-food items, such as clothing and hygiene items, to people arriving on the north shore, who must wait out a mandatory quarantine period before registering their asylum claims.  

With your never-ending support, we believe LHR can once more overcome these challenges, and return to providing much-needed relief to displaced persons on the shore and beyond.

Clothes packs prepared for new arrivals on Lesvos
Clothes packs prepared for new arrivals on Lesvos
Food packs distributed via our partner on Lesvos
Food packs distributed via our partner on Lesvos
Food distribution in Ritsona with Cafe Rits
Food distribution in Ritsona with Cafe Rits
YES intern Anna giving a singing lesson on the YOS
YES intern Anna giving a singing lesson on the YOS
Jun 2, 2020

Facing Unprecedented Challenges With Your Support

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

Links:

 
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