This group of seven Lighthouse Relief emergency response volunteers on Lesvos became a team of ECO Warriors on an early Thursday morning as they hiked the 5 kilometers from their home base in Skala Sikaminias to the Korakas lighthouse. Korakas is perched high on a cliff with a wide view of the north Aegean Sea. This is where volunteers scan the sea every night of the year, searching for incoming boats from Turkey. Korakas provided the inspiration for the name and symbol of Lighthouse Relief both because this is where operations started back in 2015 and because of the founders’ vision to act like a lighthouse — a beacon in harsh conditions, standing firmly in support of those who need it most.
ECO Relief is Lighthouse Relief’s environmental cleanup and upcycling programme, which seeks to address the ecological impact of the large number of refugees arriving on Lesvos by cleaning the beaches and hiking routes along the north shore of this beautiful Greek island. As people continue to make the journey by sea to Lesvos, the coast becomes littered with life jackets, boat remnants, clothes, and trash. Lighthouse Relief’s efforts are intended to protect the natural beauty of the island, while also giving back to the local community who have tirelessly and graciously been hosting refugees for years. Refugees who continue to make the journey to Europe through Greece, despite policy efforts to reduce migration.
According to UNHCR, a total of 16,262 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece by sea so far this year. 2,545 people made the dangerous journey in July 2018, which is a slight increase in comparison to June when 2,439 people arrived on the islands. Arrivals during the first seven months of 2018 were 41% higher than those of the same period in 2017.
Lesvos has received more than half (53%) of all new arrivals so far in 2018. The majority of people are from Syria (35%), Iraq (21%) and Afghanistan (15%), following the migration trend of the last two years. Typically, these three nationalities arrive in family groups with more than half of the population being women (24%) and children (36%), while 40% are men. Despite the lack of media attention, the data shows that the movement of people from these countries to Turkey and then to the Greek islands is increasing.
The ECO Relief team works tirelessly to remove all visual reminders of this migration trend from the north shore of Lesvos in order to support the local residents and encourage the continuation of tourism. The team that set out from the village that early morning, trekked to the beautiful Korakas lighthouse to clean up the remains of previous boat landings and all other rubbish that may have washed up on its shores. Smugglers will typically tell refugees to point their boat towards the light of the lighthouse as they cross the 8 miles of sea from Turkey, but unfortunately, the rocky cliffs below are a difficult and dangerous place to land. This remote area is also difficult to access for clean up and waste removal, but that does not stop the ECO Warriors.
While scampering around the rocks between the trails marked by previous volunteers, the team find a deflated rubber dinghy twisted among the rocks on the jagged shoreline. One volunteer takes charge of cutting the dinghy free from the rocks, and then the team slices it up into smaller pieces which are rolled and tied together with the rope attached to the boat. After another hour of beach cleaning, a pile of rubbish bags, dinghy material, and life jackets are assembled to be picked up later by Mo Chara, the Refugee Rescue SAR boat, a partner NGO also operating on the north shore.
The rubber pieces of dinghy and life jackets will be cleaned, taken to partner organizations on the island and mainland, and used to create new products such as handbags and jewelry. This upcycling process has the positive environmental impact of minimizing waste, and transforms materials from a refugee’s hazardous journey to Greece into beautiful products that symbolize a new beginning.
The ECO Warriors will be seen on the north shore of Lesvos all through the summer and fall, continuing the fight for cleaner beaches and solidarity with refugees and the local community.