Old City
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Our Beginning

Throughout the summer or 2015, 1,000 – 1,500 refugees were arriving in Molyvos every day.

The Greek island of Lesvos has hosted travellers for centuries, drawn to the stunning scenery, relaxing hot springs and romantic, sleepy atmosphere. From 2010, a new kind of traveller began to arrive: men, women, and children, fleeing war, persecution, and destruction in their home countries. Their journeys were long and dangerous..

Starfish Foundation was started by locals to meet the needs of those arriving by boat.

Starfish Foundation was started by locals in the village of Molyvos, with the objective of meeting the immediate needs of those arriving by boat in their thousands. Coordinated by Melinda McRostie, the owner of the local restaurant Captain’s Table, the people of Molyvos worked together to give the refugees dry clothes, hot food and a safe onward passage to the port of Mytilene to continue their journey.

Processing refugees
By mid-2015, Starfish had also assumed responsibility for registering arriving refugees, relieving the overstretched Port Authority.

By then, hundreds of refugees were filling the small Molyvos harbour each day, awaiting official transportation across the island to the reception centres in Mytilene. Starfish took action to clear the harbour and to shelter arriving refugees. The team constructed a reception area outside of the port and provided basic food, clothing, medication, mats, blankets, and sleeping bags for those needing to stay overnight. .

Pressures on Lesvos’ processing system meant that hundreds were stranded in the village. Some, therefore, decided to walk the 70km the port of Mytilene and Starfish provided these people with hats, water and maps.

By mid-2015, Starfish had also assumed responsibility for registering arriving refugees, relieving the overstretched Port Authority.
Early refugee camp, OXY
OXY – a refugee camp in a car park

Starfish secured the use of the car park used by a local club, OXY, to develop a temporary reception and transit camp. This improved conditions for the people remaining in Molyvos, as well as the appearance of the village for the local residents. As well as sheltering and processing the refugees who arrived in Molyvos, arrivals from other villages were also transported to OXY by bus to avoid conflict with local people.

Around 2,000 and 3,000 people passed through OXY each day, however it was often many more – the highest number recorded was 6,000.  It is estimated that around 130,000 refugees spent time at OXY, making it the largest refugee transit camp in Europe at that time. The camp was honoured by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, who visited OXY and commended its operation and infrastructure.

Becoming an NGO

In autumn 2015, Starfish assumed the position of Emergency Response Coordinator for arrivals in peril. The Port Authority would notify Starfish in the case of sinking vessels or drownings, to arrange for doctors and ambulances to attend the emergency.

With the ever increasing responsibility came the urgent need for greater funding and more resources, which lead to Starfish applying for NGO status, which was granted by the Greek Government on the 9th October 2015.

Operating as an NGO, Starfish was able to secure volunteers from all across the world, as well as support from many NGO groups active on the island. These included:

  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

  • International Rescue Committee

  • Danish Red Cross

  • Women and Health Alliance

  • Samaritan’s Purse

  • Euro Relief

  • Movement on the Ground

  • Islamic Relief

 

What we achieved

Starfish could now increase work on Lesvos, collaborating with Reception and Identification in major camps at Moria and Kara Tepe in the provision of food, clothing and volunteers.

Starfish also worked to provide healthcare supplies to the hospital of Mytilene, the Kalloni Medical Centre, the Lesvos Social Clinic and several community clinics on the island.

Starfish initiated programmes to support the local communities impacted by the crisis, as well as off-site activities for refugees and began working especially with vulnerable groups, distributing clothes, additional food packages and soccer balls to unaccompanied minors on the Kalloni region.

Starfish was now able to work on a national scale, delivering clothes and sanitary products to several camps across the country such as Eidomeni, Malaksa, Lavrion, and Chios; providing Ritsona with bottled water and sending mosquito nets to Larissa and Alexandroupolis. Starfish also provided non-food aid to other organisations including “O allos anthropos” and “Agalia” in Athens and the "Piraeus Metropolis".

Refugees -- waiting

Some of the numbers

Between 2015 and mid-2017, more than 1,500 volunteers worked at Starfish, sometimes over 80 each day. Together with local and foreign volunteers, we welcomed, sheltered and processed over 200,000 people who passed through the village of Molyvos.

Refugees warming up after arrival
Christmas 2017, Moria camp, Lesvos
Supporting children and unaccompanied minors

The EU-Turkey Agreement of March 2016 stemmed the flow of arrivals to Lesvos and required NGOs to vacate the refugee camps. Starfish adapted to the situation by shifting focus to supporting children and unaccompanied minors. Starfish supplied over 60 unaccompanied minors in the Madamados camp with creative activities and English lessons. Additional food was provided to these children, as well as unaccompanied minors in the Moria camp. Food supplies were also sent tri-monthly to the vulnerable groups camp Solidarity-PIPKA, before its closure in 2017.

Starfish enabled 50 unaccompanied minors living in the Moria camp and Iliaktida shelters to take part in Changemakers IT Training, learning coding, in 2017, as well as arranging football games for them. Mobile phones were provided for long-term camp residents. On 27th December 2017, Starfish assisted the authorities at Moria camp with their Christmas party, donating chocolate, balloons and presents for the children residing there.

Expanding Focus

 

During 2017, the Starfish team adapted on other fronts as well.  The team took part in several capacity-building training courses to improve processes and move toward becoming a dedicated NGO for the communities on the island. As a first act of business, Starfish set up the NeedsHub in 2017, a platform designed to facilitate communication, trust and collaboration between the many organisations working on the island.

The NeedsHub was successful in sourcing food and non-food aid items, including toiletries, mobile phones for unaccompanied minors, clothes, shoes, lice spray and baby strollers. The NeedsHub gave businesses, organisations and individuals the opportunity to support refugees on Lesvos in a streamlined, effective manner, ensuring the must urgent wants were filled. A stand-out moment saw the Hammer Forum Organisation from Germany responding to a NeedsHub request, sending a truck filled with wheelchairs, bedsheets, sterilisers, mattresses, and strollers. Monetary aid was used by Starfish to purchase the supplementary products required from local merchants. Supporting local people is a cornerstone of Starfish’s work.

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NeedsHub Training

2017

Starfish has also been involved in building awareness of the situation on the island by supporting projects such as Arabella Dormon’s moving London art installation “Suspended”. This moving piece consisted of refugee clothing and possessions suspended in mid-air, as though floating in water. Starfish contributed refugee clothing to the artist.  The exhibit was held at St James Piccadilly Church, London in 2017, followed by Canterbury Cathedral in 2018.

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Supporting Women & Vulnerable Minors

In 2018, Starfish worked to meet some of the immediate concerns felt by residents living within Moria. At the time, 1,300 women were living in Moria camp, and a widespread concern was raised around the threat of gender-based violence and sexual harassment. In light of this, the team launched a self defence and empowerment campaign through Global Giving designed to teach key violence prevention strategies for women and vulnerable populations. The first self-defense course taught 70 women, coming from 16 different countries, in 7 different languages, with one class held specifically for a group of unaccompanied minors living in Moria’s “SafeZone”.

Starfish also started their baby box project in 2018. The team distributed beds and supplies to families within Moria who had recently had a baby. The boxes contained essential items such as sleeping bags, warm clothing for infants, underwear for the mothers, nappies, additional hygiene products for baby and mother, toys, and blankets. 300 baby strollers were distributed to families with young children.

Surging Refugees

2019 was marked by a surge in refugee arrivals. The pressure increased on everyone – both the refugees and the local population – with the conditions in Moria camp getting even worse. There were more than 20,000 people living in or around Moria camp, a facility built to house 3,000. Starfish began expanding support to vulnerable people beyond the camps, to include those living elsewhere on Lesvos. We provided unaccompanied minors transportation to their medical appointments in Mytilene (a prerequisite for their asylum process), provided Greek lessons to adults in the camp, and facilitated Osteopathy appointments in the Starfish container in Moria.

 

In March 2019, Starfish opened the doors of their community-focused, opportunity hub, “OpenSpace”. The space seeks to bridge the gap between local Greeks and refugee communities on Lesvos by hosting inclusive activities and events; within OpenSpace, yoga classes, self defense and empowerment workshops, tech labs, sewing lessons, and seminars have been held.

The image below is Moria Camp in 2020, spilling into nearby olive groves.

Moria camp, 2020

COVID-19 Arrives

 

The emergence of the COVID-19 virus in 2020 changed the world. And for the residents of Moria camp, recommended hygiene measures were almost impossible to take. In March, only 22 sinks were available for the nearly 22,000 residents living at the camp. As a senior public health official on Lesvos put it at the time, “Moria is a public health timebomb”.

Within days of the pandemic being declared Starfish set up the first hand washing station outside the main gate to the camp and started the #SafeHands programme. The stations provide access to clean water, soap, and protective masks for all camp residents who stop by, for fighting the Corona virus.

In early September, a fire tore through Moria Camp leaving nearly 13,000 people without shelter. In the aftermath of this devastating incident, the Starfish team began purchasing and distributing water to those who had fled the fire and were living by the side of the road. We worked with Remar, EuroRelief and other NGOs and individual volunteers to distribute food supplied by the Greek Army.

Starfish Today

A new, transitional camp was then set up, named RIC Lesvos. The Starfish team works within the new camp, and elsewhere on Lesvos, to provide assistance wherever needed, both to refugees and to the local community.

Learn More about Our Work