History of Starfish

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Starfish’s founders have provided assistance to refugees in Molyvos for the past five years. They simply started helping from out of their homes – handing out clothes, water, and food to refugees who were rescued by the coast guard. Based in the harbour of Molyvos, the local volunteers’ activities were initially centred around the provision of emergency relief to shipwreck victims brought in by the coast guard. They provided people with a warm welcome in our harbour camp, which was open from June to October 2015. When numbers increased dramatically in the summer of 2015, locals were joined by tourists and volunteers from all over the world, our relief efforts grew dramatically, and the decision was made to set up a formal foundation so that we could apply for and receive funding in order to continue our work. Prior to that point, our funding was solely from private donations given to the local supermarkets so that we could order the supplies we needed. We have always believed it was very important to support the community here on Lesvos, by buying from local shops.

During early summer 2015, we had our first international volunteers, who stayed with us for a longer period of time. We started training volunteers who joined our team, made a schedule, rented a big warehouse, and became more and more organized. Our volunteers also drove to Skala Sikaminias, where hundreds of people were also arriving and help was needed. Due to our new foundation status, we were able to start receiving funding to continue our work. We handed out water and food in the parking lot of Molyvos in cooperation with volunteers from many other teams, and started managing busses to take people from the north to the registration centres in the south. Meanwhile, Melinda’s phone would just not stop ringing!

In September 2015, Starfish opened transit site OXY, where people arriving on the northern shores of Lesvos were welcomed and provided with a safe haven to rest before travelling onwards to the registration centre in the south of the island. In less than four months, over 130,000 refugees passed through OXY, all of whom were provided with food, clothes and blankets by our volunteers. With the daily arrivals averaging over 3,000 people, and one day even 6,000, we couldn’t load all the arrivals during daylight hours, and OXY became an overnight camp most of the time. In OXY, we had big tents for people to sleep in, a medical clinic area, tents from where clothes were distributed, a food distribution point that even served hot food from a mobile kitchen, and a children’s safe play tent. We worked closely with international organisations such as UNHCR, the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and many others to ensure that the transit site was up to international humanitarian standards. But most importantly, the atmosphere of OXY was so wonderful that that many refugees actually returned to OXY to volunteer after they received their papers from Mytilene.

We also experienced tough times when we received the victims of six tragic shipwrecks. One of those shipwrecks involved about 300 people, of which at least 70 people lost their lives. These tragic events highlighted the importance of structured organization. We started regular drills, planned for emergency situations, and developed an atmosphere of emotional care for volunteers and staff alike.

By the end of 2015, we were proud to be able to say that we helped over 200,000 people – more than twenty percent of the total amount of migrants that came to Greece in the past year!

(charts)

By the beginning of 2016, the flood of refugees had diminished to the point that we felt it was unnecessary to keep OXY open once the International Rescue Committee (IRC) camp was operational. We partnered with the the IRC, and managed the two clothes tent there. As truly efficient suppliers of clothes, we sent supplies to many other organizations on the island. We also worked in Moria camp during the coldest winter months, where we partnered with the Danish Refugee Council to ensure that vulnerable people and families had a dry and warm place to sleep.

In March 2016, we distributed food packets to about 1,000 people each day boarding the ferries departing Lesvos. Each of these meal packets (a cheese sandwich, fruit juice, a fruit, and a bottle of water) cost almost two euros. Toward the end of March, an agreement between the EU and Turkey went into effect, dictating that all new arrivals to the island be taken directly to Moria and detained while their asylum applications are processed. At that time, refugees who had arrived on Lesvos prior to March 20 were transported to camps scattered throughout mainland Greece. We began distributing the same lunch packs then to Moria as there was not enough food in the camp.

Meanwhile, arrivals on our shores have dwindled. Most volunteers and NGOs have moved to the mainland to lend a hand at the newly developing refugee camps. As April drew to a close, it was announced that refugees who had submitted asylum claims and who had been inside Moria for 25 days or more would be given papers allowing them free movement in and out of Moria. Everyone here is coming to grips with the fact that the processing of asylum claims is proceeding very slowly and as a result, Lesvos will become a semi-permanent home for thousands of people awaiting a decision. Since some of these refugees are unaccompanied minors, we have been providing staffing and assistance to help meet the needs of these vulnerable children both in Mytilini town and in a Safe Camp.

The shifting situation since March has required us to be extremely flexible and to think hard about our mission and our future. Our board of directors has discussed in depth whether we should devote ongoing efforts to shift our long term focus to the evolving needs both here and on the mainland. When we started providing help to refugees, we stepped in to address an urgent situation unfolding on our doorsteps. Now, however, as the situation in northern Lesvos is no longer urgent, we feel that the time has come to return to our initial intent. Therefore, we have come to the difficult decision that although our wonderful corps of volunteers is international, Starfish is a local NGO with ongoing responsibilities within the surrounding community—and that the time has come to downsize our operations.

We will continue to operate on a much smaller scale, as a small organization that focuses mainly on the local community. Meanwhile, we will ensure that all financial donations that have been received until now will be used for their original purpose, and that remaining funds will be distributed wisely in the coming months for the benefit of the refugees. We will continue our work in smaller form, as immediate needs arise in our area.

One of our ongoing projects is to clean the coastline of our beautiful island. Raft wreckage, life jackets, garbage, and discarded possessions are not only washed up on beaches but also buried under rocks and water, requiring us to cut them apart to extract them and sometimes transport the garbage away from rugged terrain by raft.

Another ongoing project is a clothing distribution centre for the local population. Due to the events of the past year, tourism (the basis of our economy) has plummeted and many Lesvos families are experiencing financial hardship. The donated clothing that was inappropriate for distribution to the refugees is being offered to community members. We’ve also been given money for our local projects to distribute food to families in need.

Meanwhile, it is springtime here on the island, and we all are able to experience the absolute beauty of our surroundings on a daily basis alongside our work. We take our role here seriously, but we always have and always will take time to smile, gather, and enjoy the spirit of goodwill that defines Starfish. Thanks to all for your support, which made everything we have done possible!Starfish’s founders have provided assistance to refugees in Molyvos for the past five years. They simply started helping from out of their homes – handing out clothes, water, and food to refugees who were rescued by the coast guard. Based in the harbour of Molyvos, the local volunteers’ activities were initially centred around the provision of emergency relief to shipwreck victims brought in by the coast guard. They provided people with a warm welcome in our harbour camp, which was open from June to October 2015. When numbers increased dramatically in the summer of 2015, locals were joined by tourists and volunteers from all over the world, our relief efforts grew dramatically, and the decision was made to set up a formal foundation so that we could apply for and receive funding in order to continue our work. Prior to that point, our funding was solely from private donations given to the local supermarkets so that we could order the supplies we needed. We have always believed it was very important to support the community here on Lesvos, by buying from local shops.

During early summer 2015, we had our first international volunteers, who stayed with us for a longer period of time. We started training volunteers who joined our team, made a schedule, rented a big warehouse, and became more and more organized. Our volunteers also drove to Skala Sikaminias, where hundreds of people were also arriving and help was needed. Due to our new foundation status, we were able to start receiving funding to continue our work. We handed out water and food in the parking lot of Molyvos in cooperation with volunteers from many other teams, and started managing busses to take people from the north to the registration centres in the south. Meanwhile, Melinda’s phone would just not stop ringing!

In September 2015, Starfish opened transit site OXY, where people arriving on the northern shores of Lesvos were welcomed and provided with a safe haven to rest before travelling onwards to the registration centre in the south of the island. In less than four months, over 130,000 refugees passed through OXY, all of whom were provided with food, clothes and blankets by our volunteers. With the daily arrivals averaging over 3,000 people, and one day even 6,000, we couldn’t load all the arrivals during daylight hours, and OXY became an overnight camp most of the time. In OXY, we had big tents for people to sleep in, a medical clinic area, tents from where clothes were distributed, a food distribution point that even served hot food from a mobile kitchen, and a children’s safe play tent. We worked closely with international organisations such as UNHCR, the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and many others to ensure that the transit site was up to international humanitarian standards. But most importantly, the atmosphere of OXY was so wonderful that that many refugees actually returned to OXY to volunteer after they received their papers from Mytilene.

We also experienced tough times when we received the victims of six tragic shipwrecks. One of those shipwrecks involved about 300 people, of which at least 70 people lost their lives. These tragic events highlighted the importance of structured organization. We started regular drills, planned for emergency situations, and developed an atmosphere of emotional care for volunteers and staff alike.

By the end of 2015, we were proud to be able to say that we helped over 200,000 people – more than twenty percent of the total amount of migrants that came to Greece in the past year!

(charts)

By the beginning of 2016, the flood of refugees had diminished to the point that we felt it was unnecessary to keep OXY open once the International Rescue Committee (IRC) camp was operational. We partnered with the the IRC, and managed the two clothes tent there. As truly efficient suppliers of clothes, we sent supplies to many other organizations on the island. We also worked in Moria camp during the coldest winter months, where we partnered with the Danish Refugee Council to ensure that vulnerable people and families had a dry and warm place to sleep.

In March 2016, we distributed food packets to about 1,000 people each day boarding the ferries departing Lesvos. Each of these meal packets (a cheese sandwich, fruit juice, a fruit, and a bottle of water) cost almost two euros. Toward the end of March, an agreement between the EU and Turkey went into effect, dictating that all new arrivals to the island be taken directly to Moria and detained while their asylum applications are processed. At that time, refugees who had arrived on Lesvos prior to March 20 were transported to camps scattered throughout mainland Greece. We began distributing the same lunch packs then to Moria as there was not enough food in the camp.

Meanwhile, arrivals on our shores have dwindled. Most volunteers and NGOs have moved to the mainland to lend a hand at the newly developing refugee camps. As April drew to a close, it was announced that refugees who had submitted asylum claims and who had been inside Moria for 25 days or more would be given papers allowing them free movement in and out of Moria. Everyone here is coming to grips with the fact that the processing of asylum claims is proceeding very slowly and as a result, Lesvos will become a semi-permanent home for thousands of people awaiting a decision. Since some of these refugees are unaccompanied minors, we have been providing staffing and assistance to help meet the needs of these vulnerable children both in Mytilini town and in a Safe Camp.

The shifting situation since March has required us to be extremely flexible and to think hard about our mission and our future. Our board of directors has discussed in depth whether we should devote ongoing efforts to shift our long term focus to the evolving needs both here and on the mainland. When we started providing help to refugees, we stepped in to address an urgent situation unfolding on our doorsteps. Now, however, as the situation in northern Lesvos is no longer urgent, we feel that the time has come to return to our initial intent. Therefore, we have come to the difficult decision that although our wonderful corps of volunteers is international, Starfish is a local NGO with ongoing responsibilities within the surrounding community—and that the time has come to downsize our operations.

We will continue to operate on a much smaller scale, as a small organization that focuses mainly on the local community. Meanwhile, we will ensure that all financial donations that have been received until now will be used for their original purpose, and that remaining funds will be distributed wisely in the coming months for the benefit of the refugees. We will continue our work in smaller form, as immediate needs arise in our area.

One of our ongoing projects is to clean the coastline of our beautiful island. Raft wreckage, life jackets, garbage, and discarded possessions are not only washed up on beaches but also buried under rocks and water, requiring us to cut them apart to extract them and sometimes transport the garbage away from rugged terrain by raft.

Another ongoing project is a clothing distribution centre for the local population. Due to the events of the past year, tourism (the basis of our economy) has plummeted and many Lesvos families are experiencing financial hardship. The donated clothing that was inappropriate for distribution to the refugees is being offered to community members. We’ve also been given money for our local projects to distribute food to families in need.

Meanwhile, it is springtime here on the island, and we all are able to experience the absolute beauty of our surroundings on a daily basis alongside our work. We take our role here seriously, but we always have and always will take time to smile, gather, and enjoy the spirit of goodwill that defines Starfish. Thanks to all for your support, which made everything we have done possible!