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Lifejackets? Mattresses for refugees in Lesbos

Posted on 25 April 2017.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, the mountains of life jackets abandoned by migrants are being recycled to enable them to sleep warm.

The Greek island of Lesbos took in over 5,300 refugees in 2016, although it has a capacity of only 3,500.

Orange, green, yellow, blue... these are the colors of the life jackets littering the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos. Testimony to the tragedy experienced by many of the migrants arriving there against all odds in the hope of a better future. Mads Damgaard Peterson, a volunteer with the UN Refugee Agency, had the idea of giving these abandoned lifejackets a second life.

In the Moria camp in Lesbos, winter is particularly harsh. In addition to the chilling cold, living conditions are extremely difficult for the thousands of migrants sleeping on the ground, sheltered by a simple tarpaulin.

Mattresses for the Moria camp

Mads Damgaard Peterson works as a volunteer in this refugee camp. The young Dane was shocked when he realized that the tons of lifejackets washed up or abandoned on the shores of the Aegean Sea simply ended up in the island’s landfill.

One morning, sitting in the cold with Anezka Sokol - another Danish volunteer - they found it more comfortable to sit on one of the abandoned lifejackets. They quickly came up with the idea of reusing them and decided to use them to make mattresses for the Moria camp. They collected them from the beach and made their first prototype by unfolding three of them and then strapping them together.

In no time at all they had made about twenty mattresses – all well insulated thanks to the layer of air contained in the lifejackets.

Mads Damgaard Peterson and Anezka Sokol then worked on a system for attaching them to the ground to make a more comfortable sleeping area for the refugees. The mattresses are not only well insulated, they are also fire resistant and easy to clean. The two volunteers also taught the refugees how to make the mattresses for themselves.

Now all those abandoned lifejackets won’t end up in the island's landfill – and they offer an immediate solution in the emergency situation faced by refugees.