In late 2015, “Stephen K.” of the United States created a petition asking that the Greek islanders who have been helping refugees receive the Nobel Peace Prize “for their contributions aiding the refugee crisis.” The Greek isles of Lesbos, Kos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, and Leros have been key points in the perilous journeys of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who entered Europe in 2015, and many local people have volunteered to help these travelers as they come ashore, in need.
The petition, which has surpassed its goal of 500,000 signatures, notes that the citizens of Greece have “shown their Christ-like behaviour with acts of ‘filotimo,’ love, respect and ‘filoxenia’ to those who are total strangers to them.”
Indeed, the threat of potential expulsion from the EU for not better protecting their borders against the influx of migrants and weathering a debt crisis of their own has not prevented the citizens of these isles from working tirelessly to help incoming Syrian and Ethiopian refugees arriving on shore from the Aegen sea.
According to the UNHCR, Greece saw about 800,000 migrants and refugees on their way to Western Europe via the Aegean Sea, in addition to some 34,000 traveling by land to Greece through Turkey and Bulgaria. The islanders deal with cleaning up the overpopulated refugee camps and providing meals that the authorities themselves cannot keep up with.
Now, the campaign has received support from academics from Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Oxford, and the University of Copenhagen, who drafted a nomination in time for the February 1 deadline. They’ve even taken the proposal to Greece’s migration minister, Yiannis Mouzalas, who has offered the full support of the government. The writers of the nomination paper emphasize the way that citizens of an already troubled country have handled an international crisis with “empathy and self-sacrifice.”
While the residents who’ve heard of the campaign welcome the idea, many maintain that helping people is motivation enough. “I will never forget seeing young girls being rescued from a boat on Leros,” activist Spyro Limneos told The Guardian. “They were smiling. They didn’t have suitcases or any possessions except their end-of-year school certificates, written in Arabic. They laid those down in the sun to dry out. It was a combination of tragedy and hope.”