Ray Barron-Woolford is a writer and CEO of the Kath Duncan Equality & Civil Rights Network and is here to shed light on the admirable work of young volunteers and NGO organisations coming to the aid of refugees off the Greek island of Lesvos. Ray is also fundraising for the cause with an ambition to establish a safe zone in the region which you can donate to here.
At 5.30 pm on 29 August 2019, a team of Lighthouse Relief Volunteers monitoring the Aegean sea from a look-out point on the Greek island of Lesvos noticed the outline of a flimsy plastic dinghy with barely enough buoyancy to keep the men, women and children onboard above water.
These poor people clinging to the sinking dinghy, their fragile hopes now completely eclipsed by pure terror, could see no sign of help or rescue. However, on a hillside on the north side of this beautiful island, a team of young volunteers – the Angels of Greece, as the refugees call them – were heading towards the shoreline.
probably many thousands of people owe their lives to the Teenage Angels of Greece
These young Australians, boosted by further volunteers from around the world, have been here since 2015 and have established a grassroots charity that has transformed into a highly effective, 24/7 rescue activity which has supported thousands of people arriving on the shoreline. They are one of two grassroots NGOs remaining on the north of the island.
As the young spotters were raising the alarm, an additional 12 vessels were spotted. The updates were urgently forwarded to the response team, for this was going to be an operation unlike any other that had occurred since 2015.
The Lighthouse Relief team rapidly moved into position while sending out urgent messages to mobilise the volunteers of Refugee Rescue, another grassroots organisation working on the frontline, and other mainstream aid organisations to warn them of the imminent arrival of so many more boats and people. Their tally of new arrivals assisted would be 546 men, women and children rescued in just one night in a 30-minute opening.
Lighthouse Relief – a group that really does stand out as a beacon of hope in appalling conditions
As Refugee Rescue launched their boat to safely intercept the sinking dinghies and bring those clinging to life on board towards land, the Lighthouse Relief team stood in the sea to escort refugees through the treacherous currents and dangerous rocky coastline. This final homestretch of crossing is just as hazardous as anything these refugees have encountered so far.
Once they are safely on shore, they are welcomed by other members of the team who have organised dry clothes and hot drinks and are ready to offer physical and emotional support. They then transport the newcomers to the first camp for registration and conduct a health check before they are moved by the authorities on to the refugee camp whose name has become synonymous with the misery of mass migration: Moria.
In Moria camp alone, 500 of the thousands of children who arrived had already been orphaned by the time they reached the camp
Today, probably many thousands of people owe their lives to the Teenage Angels of Greece – a group of teenagers and young 20-somethings who have paid their own way to see how they could help establish a charity on the frontline of global concern.
Lighthouse Relief is the only group in Lesvos with a dedicated landing and spotting operation that seeks to stop the distressing images of bodies, not so lucky to be spotted, washing up on Europe’s beaches. Many would argue that grassroots groups like these are much more significant and effective than the mainstream and officially recognised aid agencies which, although are much better funded and resourced, are in the most part inefficient and restricted to the grudging and minimalist provision of containment and basic foodstuffs.
In addition, official organisations are bureaucratically encumbered, wasteful, and far from well and humanly adapted to the real requirements of the people in need of help. There are certainly questions well worth pondering, such as why should so many resources be given to slow, unresponsive, and seemingly complacent bureaucratic organisations? Why should an unacceptably high proportion of the money donated be used to pay wages and maintain organisations themselves?
It is clear the majority of the truly effective, responsive and cutting-edge work that genuinely saves and improves lives, such as the provision of meaningful education, welfare and wellbeing services supported by a responsive and innovative approach to logistics, are provided by grassroots activists who depend on crowdfunding and donations from their own friends and family to fuel extraordinary work. And this really is the work that counts.
As well as spotting crafts in trouble and distress, bringing their human cargo safely to shore and providing food and clothing, Lighthouse Relief, a group that really does stand out as a beacon of hope in appalling conditions, offers ongoing support. The group provides an unprecedented safe and friendly space for children and young people who have been traumatised by their journey to sanctuary.
Their tally of new arrivals assisted would be 546 men women and children rescued in just one night in a 30-minute opening.
Many of those who arrive in Greece have been abused physically and sexually, and many have watched their loved ones drown in front of their very eyes while being powerless to help. In Moria camp alone, 500 of the thousands of children who arrived had already been orphaned by the time they reached the camp. Please, just think about that for a minute and let it sink in.
As I sit in the Lighthouse Relief base at Skala, having a coffee with Nick Powell, their communications officer, we discuss how the Kath Duncan Equality & Civil Rights Network can work constructively together on matters such as logistics, fundraising and other special areas of need that are not currently being addressed.
In the course of our conversation, I ask him what his current priorities are: “Firstly, to raise awareness of what’s actually happening here; then to ensure that our operations can continue in a sustainable way for as long as there is a need”.
Many of those who arrive in Greece have been abused physically and sexually, and many have watched their loved ones drown in front of their very eyes while being powerless to help
Nick says over 10,000 people have been supported by these young Angels of Greece so far, that’s 10,000 men, women and children who will never forget the kindness of these strangers and the amazing youth of the Lighthouse Relief Project.
Please consider donating to this great cause. A mere £1 can make all the difference: it will help us to create a women’s safe zone, a children’s pop-up school and a sports team to drive ambition and high spirits in the camp. Such initiatives will go a long way towards tackling the rife sexual and physical violence that takes place while we also aim to adhere to mental health issues among abused women and children who have only known the misery and devastation of war and abuse.
All images have been provided by Ray throughout this article.