Max McClellan, the United Society’s co-ordinator in Greece, writes an in-depth report on how church groups and charities are supporting refugees following their arrival on the Greek islands.

From the air it looks like someone has run an orange highlighter pen around the Lesvos coastline, such is the density of life jackets that litter the coast from refugees who have arrived from Turkey.

Since the beginning of 2015, more than half a million refugees have arrived on Lesvos in small boats from Turkey. January this year saw 36,175 refugees arrive, compared with 742 in January last year.

On the island, there are now established processes for taking care of refugees once they arrive. Typically, volunteer groups meet refugees on the shore, often at night, to provide medical care, warm clothes, food and a place to sleep.

The Anglican Chaplaincy in Greece, supported by the United Society, is funding Lighthouse Refugee Relief (LRR), an NGO set up last year by volunteers from Sweden, Norway and the UK. LRR is one of over 80 NGO and volunteer groups helping on the island. Co-ordination meetings take place near the shoreline.

LRR co-ordinator Henry Hartley said the situation for refugees has been very difficult over winter. Refugees arrive with serious medical conditions brought on by the cold weather. LRR set up a small clinic. Instructions on the walls remind volunteers how to treat half-drowned or hypothermic patients.

Refugees who land at this location are lucky because it is easy to disembark from the small boats, and assistance, including road transport to the refugees’ next destination, is readily available. By contrast, boats that get lost in the dark often come ashore on more inhospitable parts of the coast, such as near the Korakas Lighthouse, where the light beam – in a cruel inversion of its intended purpose – rather than warn people to keep clear, instead attracts the refugees to a dangerous rocky shore.

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