SEATTLE — Life jackets on Lesvos lay piled by the thousands after Syrian refugees make the harrowing journey across the sea to Greece. News outlets and celebrities like Susan Sarandon, say these life jacket graveyards speak to the magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis.
The life jackets on Lesvos serve as a harsh reminder for many refugees of their dangerous journey while escaping war-torn homes. However, some refugees and volunteers have found new and very helpful uses for the life jackets that once aided in a safe sea passage.
Mads Damgaard Peterson, a Danish volunteer, wanted to find a practical use for the life jackets on Lesvos. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Damgaard Peterson and another volunteer, Anezka Sokol, re-used the foam inside the life jackets to create insulated emergency mattresses.
“We were sitting on them because the ground was cold and we thought, ‘let’s make a mattress,’” Sokol told the UNHCR. “We had the cable ties already and in five minutes we had a product.”
UNHCR reports more volunteers are now working on creating a comfortable, insulated and fire retardant sleeping surface that can be wiped clean.
The Associated Press reports that refugees and volunteers in the PIKPA camp on Lesvos are making handbags, totes and messenger bags out of old life vests. The bags will be sold to raise money for charity efforts on the island.
“These people don’t want to become beggars,” Greek volunteer and English teacher Lena Altinoglou told the AP. “It’s important for people here to be able to work, create something, to make a living and help other (refugee) families.”
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF) and Greenpeace created a giant peace sign on the hill above a life jacket graveyard on Jan. 1, 2016.
More than 100 volunteers used around 3,000 life vests to create the image according to Aaron Gray-Block, a crisis response campaigner with Greenpeace International.
“They joined groups such as Sea-Watch and the Dutch Refugee Boat Foundation and local community groups such as Starfish to create the peace sign on New Year’s Day to bring in 2016 with a message of hope,” Gray-Block said in a Greenpeace blog post.
Nearly 800,000 men, women and children arrived in Greece by sea in 2015 according to the Huffington Post. Lesvos may not be home for many refugees but the re-purposed life vests on the island are proving to make life a little easier.
Sources: AP, Greenpeace, Huffington Post, US News, CNN