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Tourists on Greek Island Join Local Volunteers to Aid Refugees

JULY 7, 2015

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    By ROBERT MACKEY

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    As the summer holiday season kicks off on the Greek island of Lesbos this year, some tourists have taken time away from the beach to join local volunteers offering aid to refugees who continue to arrive by sea in record numbers.

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    If you're on holiday in #lesvos and u see refugees walking in the heat of the day - please help them by giving them water & biscuits

    — Susan G Crocombe (@shinybluedress) June 27, 2015
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    Op vakantie naar Lesbos? Kijk op deze Facebookpagina wat je kunt doen om de vluchtelingen te helpen. https://t.co/0EC6wlywgp

    — Denise Hilhorst (@DeniseHilhorst) July 7, 2015

    According to a report released last week by the United Nations, the vast majority of the 68,000 migrants who made it by boat to the Greek islands in the first six months of this year were refugees, including almost 40,000 who fled the war in Syria. Reporters and aid workers, like Anna Holligan of BBC News, Patrick Kingsely of The Guardian and Laura Padoan of UNHCR, have documented the challenges facing the new arrivals.

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    'I have money but I can't get it cuz the banks are closed...' #Syrian refugee in Lesbos as two crises collide #Greece

    — anna holligan (@annaholligan) July 7, 2015
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    Children in the detention centre, Lesvos. People flee because they have no choice. Most refugees in Greece are Syrian pic.twitter.com/XScT3phv2s

    — Laura Padoan (@Laura_Padoan) July 7, 2015

    While the local coast guard has saved some stranded migrants from drowning, and the United Nations has been trying to draw attention to the lack of facilities for the arrivals, much of the assistance has come from private initiatives.

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    Here is Melinda, a restaurant owner who runs a campsite free of charge for new arrivals, in the absence of govt help pic.twitter.com/UFNcsPHjNe

    — Patrick Kingsley (@PatrickKingsley) June 16, 2015

    On Lesbos, which is just a short boat ride from the Turkish coast, local volunteers — including expatriates from other parts of the European Union and tourists — have even risked arrest for violating a law against helping to transport migrants from the shore to Mytilini, the island’s capital.

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    The road less travelled: refugees face a three day walk through the mountains to register with the police in Lesvos. pic.twitter.com/e9lpYVfvjM

    — Laura Padoan (@Laura_Padoan) July 6, 2015
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    #Refugees arriving north Lesbos must walk 60km to detention centre.. passing hundreds, illegal to give them a lift pic.twitter.com/icKXdtFIKU

    — anna holligan (@annaholligan) July 7, 2015
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    Post grad student arrested for giving a ride to #refugeesgr in Mytilene. More than 1500 at makeshift camp @LesvosNet pic.twitter.com/rVjGupOtTA

    — Joanna P. (@JoannaP___) July 6, 2015
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    Latest humanitarian sport in #Lesvos: committing the "felony" of helping the refugees. Many joining in. https://t.co/o7fhBU2o2F

    — Στράτος Μωραΐτης  (@oemoral) July 7, 2015
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    I gave this unregistered #refugeeGr family lift 2 #militilini pls issue European Arrest Warrant as now in Ireland pic.twitter.com/uzkRuryJQk

    — Sheba Gray (@shebagray) July 6, 2015
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    Hulp aan illegalen is strafbaar, maar je kunt deze mensen toch niet 70 km laten lopen? Oud, jong, invalide #Lesbos pic.twitter.com/fq96FD6alN

    — Tineke Ceelen (@Tinekeceelen) July 2, 2015
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    41 drivers transfer refugees despite police's prohibition in #Lesvos, #Greece; a moving gesture of solidarity! pic.twitter.com/vWhiQVPSSC

    — Eliza Goroya (@ElizaGoroya) June 15, 2015

    Some of those who have been providing food and water to migrants have also been trying to raise awareness of the crisis on the island by sharing images of the migrants on Twitter and footage of the arrivals on YouTube.

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    A British video blogger’s footage of a migrant boat arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos this week. Eric Kempson, via YouTube

    Eric Kempson, a British sculptor who has lived in the town of Molyvos on Lesbos for 16 years, documented the perilous arrival of one group of migrants in an inflatable dinghy on Sunday and interviewed a family from the Syrian city of Homs after giving them water on Monday.

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    A family of refugees from the Syrian city of Homs on the Greek island of Lesbos this week. Eric Kempson, via YouTube

    Among those taking part in the ad hoc effort to provide aid to migrants, organized partly on Facebook, was Jo Frazer-Wise, a British woman who spent two weeks in Lesbos recently and reflected on her effort to combine a vacation with humanitarian aid work in a series of blog posts.

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    Our first day helping refugees http://t.co/rKmkbxMJR1 #lesbos #refugees #greece

    — Jo Frazer-Wise (@jofwise) June 28, 2015
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    Things are going well here today pic.twitter.com/KRc1gYsVvy

    — Jo Frazer-Wise (@jofwise) June 29, 2015

    “Today we feed a steady stream of about 70-80 people,” she wrote in one entry last week. “As we take the taxi back we see some of those we helped walking over the hills.”

    “Later after several hours by the pool and sitting at our villa bar having an early evening drink we see a group of men walking along the road — sadly we know this means that this afternoon more boats have arrived so the respite for those working so hard to help was short lived.”

    As she prepared to leave the island at end of her vacation, Ms. Frazer-Wise reflected: “It’s been important to do all we can to help but it’s also important for us to have a holiday. However it’s hard to make that decision and far from easy. Especially as everyone is working so hard and struggling for any help offered. But at least we know we have done something.”

    Update | Wednesday, July 8

    Anna Holligan, a BBC correspondent who has been covering the refugee crisis in Lesbos, produced a video report on Wednesday which shows one example of tourists from northern Europe offering help to asylum-seekers from Syria who arrived on the island this week.

    Tourists give food to refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. BBC News, via YouTube

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