Jun 1, 2020

Thank You for Supporting Our Spaces in Ritsona!

LHR's team & community members in Ritsona Camp
LHR's team & community members in Ritsona Camp

In January of 2020, as Ritsona Camp welcomed 1,000 new arrivals from the islands of Lesvos and Samos, we experienced heavy rains that flooded our spaces, making them inaccessible and forcing us to suspend our programming. We reached out to the LHR community with a call for help, so that we could resume our activities, and you mobilised immediately!

Within 24 hours, we were able to hire a company to deliver sand and gravel to absorb water in our spaces, and to buy pallets for an elevated walkway. Our team in Ritsona worked alongside Resident Volunteers and members of the community to distribute the sand and gravel across our spaces, ensuring that we could reopen our activities the following week.

Although we were able to restore our spaces and resume our activities, 2020 has had our teams facing unprecedented challenges. In just the month of January, Ritsona's population increased from 900 residents to 2,500 residents, 700 to 800 of whom are younger than 18. This meant that in the first months of 2020, our spaces were busier than ever - for example, our Youth Engagement Space hosting 125 to 135 people every day. Our team expanded, offering a wide range of workshops German, English, dance, fitness, guitar, music writing - and of course, our sought-after art workshop.

In early March of 2020, as many countries reeled from the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we were forced to suspend our in-person programming in Ritsona Camp. As the safety and well-being of the residents of Ritsona, and our volunteers, are our utmost priority, we started planning ways to support the community remotely. This led to our Youth Online Space, an online platform that engages with young residents through language workshops, conversation and creative challenges.

In early April of 2020, the community of Ritsona Camp grappled with cases of Coronavirus inside the camp, and was placed under a strict quarantine. Through this time, we've continued supporting the community remotely, such as participating in a distribution of fresh food organised by our friends at Cafe Rits, and providing psychosocial support through our online space - all the while planning for our return to the camp.

After months of strict quarantine measures, the community of Ritsona requires support more than ever. As we plan for resuming our in-person activities to support the residents, we are so grateful that the LHR community has stood with us. The months to come will undoubtedly hold many more challenges - but we are bolstered and motivated by your encouragement and support. 

Links:

Mar 9, 2020

Now More Than Ever, Your Support Is Crucial

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
Feb 27, 2020

New Challenges & Opportunities for Growth on the Shore & Beyond

Painting: Adrian Pourviseh
Painting: Adrian Pourviseh

At the end of 2019, we looked back on a year of growth, while anticipating that 2020 would bring with it new challenges we would soon face. Indeed, the first few months of this year have tested our operations, pushed us to constantly adapt, and spurred the scaling up of our operations. From drastically increased needs in Ritsona Camp, ongoing arrivals amidst cold weather, and the closure of a crucial transit facility on Lesvos, and flooding of our spaces in Ritsona, our teams have tackled these challenges head-on. 

Before we delve into the changes of the New Year, we look back on 2019, a whirlwind of activity and growth for our operations. Over the course of 2019, our teams on Lesvos assisted 14,531 people arriving to the north shore of the island - more than double the number of people whom we supported last year. Half of those arriving were under the age of 18, with 948 making the dangerous journey alone. Throughout this busy year, our team led 365 operations and our spotting volunteers identified 125 boats arriving to the north shore, enabling a fast and efficient response from our landing team. Meanwhile in Ritsona Refugee Camp in the mainland of Greece, we continued to be a source of consistent, reliable psychosocial support, building on our strong relationships with the community. Our teams there hosted 50-60 children in the Child Friendly Space every day, and 75-100 people in our bustling Youth Engagement Space, embarking on several creative projects with the youth and strengthening our sports offerings for all ages.  

Today on Lesvos, people continue to arrive despite the bitter cold and strong winds. In the first month of 2020 our teams provided a warm welcome to 834 people. At the end of January, however, we received the alarming news that Stage 2, the last transit facility on the island of Lesvos, would close by the end of the month. Stage 2 was a crucial support structure, where we offered warmth, shelter, dry clothes, and a chance to recover for people making the harrowing journey to Greece. The closure of Stage 2 has left our teams rapidly adapting to the new operational context - we have shifted our operations to ensure that people arriving can still receive the same support at the landing scene. To do this, our distribution team is deployed at landings, with a van full of clothing, dry food and blankets. We are determined and always ready to continue providing emergency support to people fleeing conflict and persecution, and we continue to adapt our operations to offer as much support as we can in the ever-changing circumstances. 

The impact of the situation on the Aegean islands is also felt acutely on the mainland, in Ritsona Camp. In the first month of 2020,  Ritsona Camp received over 1,500 new residents, many transferred from Moria Camp on Lesvos, and Vathy Camp on Samos. During that time, our spaces faced significant flooding, and our team rapidly mobilised to recover the spaces, striving to make them safe and inviting.

Among the new arrivals, there are 700-800 children who are not able to access formal education until the autumn of 2020. As they wait for the next step of their asylum procedures, it is more important than ever to offer them the opportunity to participate in psychosocial activities. Today, our numbers in Ritsona are higher than ever - our Child Friendly Space is welcoming over 100 children to programming everyday, while the Youth Engagement Space is welcoming over 135 people every day. Our CFS team is adapting their programming to ensure that we can respond to these increased needs, offering activities such as crafts, including watercolouring, drawing and structured play. 

Now, with increased numbers in the YES, we are offering a wide range of language workshops and skills workshops, ensuring that we have a diverse range of options to offer the growing population of the camp. One of these workshops is a music-writing workshop, in which one of our volunteers leads a collaborative music writing project with youth, intermingling different voices, languages and perspectives. By the end of the month of February, 600 more people are expected to be transferred to Ritsona Camp, and we are committed to ensuring that everyone can access psychosocial support in our spaces.  

Despite the many shifts we have witnessed over the past month, we persevere in our commitment to people arriving to Lesvos, and people waiting on the mainland of Greece. Today, the need for solidarity and support are truly greater than ever. Without your help, we simply would not have been able to adapt and strengthen our operations to respond to these increased needs - for this, and much more, thank you! 

LHR distribution team supporting a landing
LHR distribution team supporting a landing
LHR's Ritsona team repairing spaces after floods
LHR's Ritsona team repairing spaces after floods
 
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