For Lesvos, most of 2015 meant coping with the immediate needs of thousands of refugees arriving daily without help from government and little help from the world’s big NGOs. In the first two months of 2016, things have changed. The world has taken notice.
The international attention has brought help and more trouble. European nations are panicking from the sheer numbers. The European Union is considering “solutions” to the refugee crisis that feature leaving the problem in Turkey, a poor country that has already taken in millions of refugees along with Jordan and Lebanon. NATO will “help counter human trafficking” by patrolling the Mediterranean in warships, creating additional danger for the refugees who now cross the water under cover of darkness.
On the more hopeful side, Frontex and the Greek Coast Guard are actively searching for refugee boats in Greek waters and bringing them on to Lesvos safely.
Hundreds of volunteers are here now working for more than 80 NGOs. In addition to providing immediate support to new arrivals, volunteers clean beaches, help provide services in overcrowded camps and find ways to make children smile.
But the local residents who have done so much over the past year have just received bad news. Most of the charter flights that would normally bring tourists to this island in the summer have been cancelled for 2016. Since virtually all of the tourist industry here is local, the effects will be mostly felt by local people — hotel and restaurant owners, shop owners, the farmers and fishers who supply restaurants and everyone who works for them. After giving so much, the people here now find they are at risk of losing their livelihoods.Lesvos is beautiful and unspoiled and full of kind and soulful people. It deserves to survive this crisis and for the people here to be recognized for what they have done.
“I was not a philanthropist. This has changed me. It has changed all of us.”
— Hotel owner on Lesvos.