It all started in the busy summer of 2015, when hundreds of boats carrying refugees from Turkey landed on the shores of Lesvos. Jure and David, from Slovenia, were on the island for their holidays and decided to volunteer with Starfish Foundation, in Molyvos. What began as a prompt act of kindness, soon became the reason behind their return to Lesvos later that same year, to continue their volunteer work with Starfish.
Almost three years later, the situation on Lesvos has considerably changed. Even though the number of arrivals is not nearly close to those seen during 2015 and 2016, thousands of refugees are stranded on the island due to the geographic restrictions posed after the signature of the EU-Turkey Agreement in 2016. Today, there are more than 10,000 refugees on Lesvos, out of which 7.000 are in Moria Camp, an overcrowded refugee camp with a capacity of just 1.800 people. As transfers to the mainland are slow and usually depend on individual cases, many refugees find themselves living on Lesvos for months – sometimes more than a year. This condition has had severe consequences to the asylum-seeker population and local communities alike.
The long waiting periods are especially hard for families bearing young children and babies, who need to carry them around the camp, into Mytilene and to community centers. For this reason, we started in the second semester of 2017, a donation campaign for strollers, a much-needed item.
Our dear friends from Slovenia promptly answered our call in the beginning of 2018, showing interest in raising funds to buy as many strollers as possible. By holding events and promoting fundraising campaigns in their home country, they have raised enough money to donate 300 new strollers to refugee families living on Lesvos. Starfish arranged the order with a local supplier.
During the 19th and 20th of May 2018, together with our Slovenian partners and other organizations, we organized and delivered most of the strollers to hundreds of refugee families living in Moria Camp, KaraTepe Camp, Pikpa and Iliaktida’s home shelters. Distribution in Moria required a pre-selection which was unfortunately necessary as there are over 500 children under the age of 2 in the camp. So families who had two or more children under the age of four had the priority to receive one stroller each. A total of 200 were delivered in Moria during the distribution event. During the following day we delivered 75 strollers to families in KaraTepe camp and personally gave ten families, who are staying in Iliaktida’s shelters, one stroller each during a lovely day in one of Mytilene’s parks.
After months coordinating, fundraising and collaborating towards this initiative, both organizations hope to shed a light on the difficulties that hundreds of families face every day while moving with babies and young children.
Even though this effort represented the biggest donation of its kind seen on Lesvos so far, it was not nearly enough to provide every family stranded on the island with a stroller to transport their children. Many were those that we unfortunately couldn’t give the donation, as someone even more vulnerable needed it more. We are committed to continue our efforts to fundraise more money for strollers and engage our networks to this much needed cause.