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A haven for refugees faces closure in Greece

Some of the most vulnerable will soon be homeless

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

One of the gardens tended by the residents of Pikpa camp. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

LOUISVILLE — Just off the coast of Turkey, the Moria Refugee Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos has become an important stop for migrants fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other places around the world. After a massive fire at the Moria camp last month, the Greek government has notified Pikpa camp it must cease operations by Oct. 15.

Founded by Lesvos Solidarity, a PC(USA) global partner, Pikpa camp provides safely for 100 of the most vulnerable refugees who have landed on the island, including single mothers, the elderly, victims of torture, people with disabilities, LBGTQI and unaccompanied minors. More than 30,000 people have been given refuge since it opened in 2012.

World Mission and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) have awarded grants to Lesvos Solidarity in the past and PDA is processing additional grants for this disaster. To support PDA’s international refugee ministry, designate gifts to DR000156. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies thanks to your gifts from One Great Hour of Sharing.

With little help from other European countries, Lesvos has been overwhelmed by refugees — simply because of its geography. It lies just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. It has become is a holding station for refugees from the Middle East and Africa seeking asylum in the European Union.

In March 2016, the number of refugees stuck in Lesvos dramatically increased. To respond to the quickly-changing reality and in order to effectively manage the donations in money and manpower that kept streaming in from every part of the world, part of the group called “The Village of All Together” founded Lesvos Solidarity as an official non-governmental organization. Since then, Lesvos Solidarity has continued to develop initiatives to support refugees and locals.

A woman who lives at Pikpa makes crafts from the life jackets left behind by refugees. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

Pikpa describes itself as a place for “all those seeking protection to find a place of security, autonomy and freedom.” It provides education, therapy and health care.

In 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), awarded the Nansen Refugee Award to one of the co-founders of Pikpa in recognition of the organization’s work saving lives and providing a safe haven for the most vulnerable during the refugee crisis in 2015.

The news of the planned closure of Pikpa camp comes after the earlier announcement by the government that Kara Tepe Camp, also accommodating vulnerable people, must close by the end of December.

In news reports, Notis Mitarachi, Minister of Migration and Asylum, cited a request by the local community to close Pikpa. Some believe refugees are taking jobs and services from residents. Far-right groups have also come to the island, exacerbating an already bad situation.

Pikpa camp was the first open refugee camp in Greece. It was intended as a political statement against the detention of refugees and migrants in Greece and a plea for inclusion and integration of refugees in local society. The camp is operated by Greeks who live and work in Mytilini, which allows them to be quick and flexible in responding the ever-changing needs of those journeying to Lesvos. The community consists of small wooden houses equipped with kitchenettes, a communal kitchen and gardens. Residents are provided with medical care and psychological support. Greek and English language support classes are offered.

Some of the crafts that refugees have made from discarded materials. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

In a statement on the Lesvos Solidarity website (, the group made the following statement:

“As long as Europe and the Greek government refused to provide dignified accommodation and reception to refugees, we will keep defending Pikpa, now more than ever. This is not a struggle to defend a place. This is a struggle to defend solidarity, dignity, equality and inclusion. This is a struggle to resist the toxic agenda of segregation, containment, degradation, repression, xenophobia and hate. We know that we can count on support from all across Europe — across organisations, institutions, politicians and individuals —and we will mobilise this support with all our power.

“Decongestion of the island is the only solution, combined with keeping up capacity to receive people in dignified accommodation like Kara Tepe, Pikpa and existing apartments for the people who newly arrive in the island. The new, inhumane camp is unacceptable.

“The protection, safety and well-being of the residents at Pikpa camp is the first priority. Pikpa residents should be transferred to a safe and dignified place, which is not the new camp. They should be treated with dignity and with respect for their extremely vulnerable situation.”

Μore than 160 Greek and international organizations, academics and individuals from all over Europe have urged Greek authorities to revoke the decision to close dignified alternatives in accommodating refugees οn Lesvos.

While a new “emergency” camp has been set up on the island, currently hosting former residents of Moria camp, on-the-ground reports cite significant gaps in protection, access to electricity, water supply and sanitation, safety and security. Rescue organizations believe Pikpa and Kara Tepe should continue to be allowed to offer accommodation and protection for the most vulnerable, including unaccompanied and separated children, single mothers, victims of torture and ill treatment, male and female survivors of gender-based and sexual violence, and people with disabilities.

To learn more about Lesvos Solidarity, visit the organization’s website, You can also follow the situation on the Pikpa camp Facebook page and under hashtags: #LeaveNoOneBehind #SavePikpa.

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