Archive for Lesvos
On January 30, island Mayors Spyridon Galinos (Lesbos) and Giusi Nicolini (Lampedusa and Linosa) received the Olof Palme prize 2016.
Both are in Stockholm to receive the prize, hailed for their inspiring leadership, for having saved thousands of refugees and for showing it is more important to protect people than the protect borders.
Nicolini and Galinos tells of the often overcrowded inflatables with terrified, frozen passengers who started coming to their islands. In Lampedusa it culminated in connection with the Arab Spring, in 2011 when over 25,000 people arrived in two months. In Lesbos, the first boats came in winter 2014-2015.
The lack of timely support from their own governments and the EU forced the two mayors to organise care for thousands of refugees – and at the same time calm their local communities. Spyridon Galinos did not sleep many hours a night during the first ten months of 2015, when approximately 400,000 fugitives came ashore on Lesbos. slept.
– We had to stay calm. I spoke a lot with my islanders about wars and conflicts leading to situations which are not the refugees’ fault, says Galinos. Much of what we saw was shocking: mothers with small children and people cried and kissed the ground. But knowing that we saved lives gave us power.
The situation is different today. EU agreement with Turkey has resulted in fewer boats coming to Lesbos. 5500 migrants on the island is manageable and Galinos is proud of the accommodation which local forces operate. Nicolini has gone a round with her own government to get the neighboring islands of Lampedusa and Linosa recognized as the first reception centers, where no refugees should stay longer than a week. Both warn that the number of unaccompanied children is high.
Both are critical of the restrictive refugee policies in the EU and the “moral dark time” that prevails. At present they rely on working locally and through a network of European mayors who seems to have their hearts in the right place.
Professor Beate Ratter, Hamburg
Happy professors: Godfrey Baldacchino and Ioannis Spilanis
Muna Mohamed, Maldives
Professor emeritus Nenad Starc, Croatia
Lesbos is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea, 1,630 square kilometres in size and thus the 27th largest island in Europe. Its 86,000 inhabitants are hosts to thousands of refugees who have fled Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries plagued by war and poverty. Hundreds have drowned or gone missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean to peripheral European land such as Lesbos. One of them was 1-year-old Safi Siyap, who drowned while the coast guard attempted to rescue her family.
Saturday, Pope Francis visited the island. Children took pictures of him with their phones as he shook hands with those gathered to greet him. At the port, Francis offered a prayer to God for “all the men, women and children who have died after leaving their homelands in search of a better life. Though many of their graves bear no name, to you each one is known, loved and cherished.”
Despite international politics and the presence of the authorities, institutions, non-governmental organizations, the local people, simple people, citizens of Lesvos are showing a brotherhood, a humanity never seen before in these parts.
These islanders do not close the door, do not close their hearts, do not create borders or barriers.
Carrie Hou is a student from Australia who is traveling around Europe. She has just come to Lesvos, where I will be in May May 23-27, for the ISISA conferece