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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Lesvos Solidarity provides hope for thousands of refugees


Greek camp, related ministries address multifaceted needs

February 4, 2020

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

In the shadow of what many consider the worst refugee camp in Europe is a beacon of hope, operated mostly by volunteers, a group called Lesvos Solidarity.

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

“Pikpa is a small sanctuary-camp for refugees within the boundaries of the town of Mytilini, serving especially the most vulnerable, who have experienced trauma in Moria camp or on the journey to Greece,” said the Rev. Dr.  Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. “Its partner ministry Mosaik provides legal services, economic opportunity and emotional and spiritual support for those from both camps. Their refugee-founded and -managed restaurant, Nan, sets a table of welcome and prepares a feast. Eating there was a little like a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where all will find sanctuary and welcome.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has awarded grants to Lesvos Solidarity. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies, thanks to gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Pikpa 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. In 2014, Pikpa was hosting 600 refugees a day, even though the capacity was only 150. The group was also supporting members of the local community who were suffering due to an economic crisis by providing food and economic assistance to families in need.

In 2015 as numbers began to decline, Pikpa began hosting the most vulnerable. For instance, it was the only place supporting families who had lost loved ones at sea, assisting with funeral arrangements and the identification process. Additionally, Lesvos Solidarity distributed up to 3,000 meals a day to the camps, at the port and around the community. It also distributed medicines supporting the local hospital and clinics. Pikpa became a central distribution point for the whole island, with donations and volunteers coming in from around the world.

In the meantime, the group continued to develop Pikpa. The small wooden houses were equipped with kitchenettes and heating, and a communal kitchen was created. Residents were provided with medical care and psychological support. Greek and English language support classes were offered.

The Mosaik Support Centre opened in July 2016 in collaboration with Borderline Europe in response to the need for sustainable support structures for refugees and locals. In March 2019, Lesvos Solidarity took over full responsibility for operations at Mosaik.

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

Mosaik offers language classes (Greek, English, Farsi and Arabic), educational activities for children, computer classes, guitar lessons, yoga classes, literature workshops, human rights workshops, poetry nights and cinema screenings, and has two choirs. Eight hundred people from more than 20 countries regularly attend activities. Mosaik also provides free psychosocial support and free legal support through the Lesvos Legal Centre, which operates on its premises.

Mosaik also created a workshop to inspire creativity and promote recycling. Hundreds of thousands of life jackets had been abandoned on the shores of Lesvos. But now, thanks to Mosaik and residents of Pikpa, those discarded jackets are being used in the creation of jewelry, wallets decorative objects and other goods.

The restaurant Nan was created by four women to help put refugees and locals to work together. The restaurant brings refugees together with the locals to serve food that gets rave reviews. The food comes from local producers and those who promote fair trade in Greece and abroad.

“We are indeed grateful to be providing an additional solidarity grant to our partners on Lesvos, whose continued faithfulness to those on the move is inspiring,” said Kraus. “Though the numbers of refugees seeking shelter have declined, the deepening indifference of other receiving countries throughout Europe has kept thousands stuck in increasingly dangerous and desperate conditions. The Moria camp on Lesvos, meant to support 3,000 refugees, has swelled to 13,000 residents, a dangerous overcrowding that produces sickness, violence and an increasing sense of hopelessness.

“Yet in the shadow of Moria, a small, dedicated group of staff and volunteers tend the ministries of Pikpa and Mosaik,” Kraus said, “offering refuge, dignity and hope to individuals and families fleeing their homes in search of safety and a sustainable life.”

Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Lesvos Solidarity

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Ellen Sherby, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Alex Sherman, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

God of life, help us to embrace those in need, in a way that promotes dignity and collaboration. Help us to share the loaves that you have shared with us. Amen.