Greek President Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou visits the 'Lesvos grandmas' | Photo: ANA-MPA
Greek President Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou visits the 'Lesvos grandmas' | Photo: ANA-MPA

Greece's President Katerina Sakellaropoulou has met with two of the three famous 'Lesbos grandmas' on the Aegean island. The president paid tribute to the three women during a tour of the northeast Aegean to check in on the status of the refugee situation there.

Greece's President Katerina Sakellaropoulou this week met with two of the three so-called Lesbos grandmas – three women who achieved local fame in 2015 after they were photographed helping a young Syrian mother who had just landed on the shores of Lesbos from Turkey.

Sakellaropoulou met with Militsa (Emilia) Kamvysi and Efrstratia Mavrapidou. Maritsa Mavrapidou, the third woman captured in the 2015 photo, died two years ago. 

"You are like grandmothers to all of us; you made us all proud and we thank you for that," said Sakellaropoulou during a visit at the seaside village of Skala Sykamias on the northern coast of the island. 90-year-old Kamvysi, who was pictured bottle-feeding the baby in the photo, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

Mavrapidou, the second 'Lesbos grandma' still living, is 94. The two women, along with Maritsa Mavrapidou, became symbols of the solidarity shown towards migrants by local residents and volunteers.

The three grandmothers continued to help refugees and migrants while their village was the focus of the so-called refugee crisis. They returned to the shore every day to support the many thousands of migrants that were arriving.

'Examples of humanity, dignity and solidarity'

"The small population of Sykamnia gave examples of humanity, dignity, and solidarity," said George Saroglou, the president of the Community of Sykamnia. "We sent a message to the whole world, to the powerful, and to the merchants of war. We told them that they were killing innocent children and we offered them life, we give them milk," he told reporters.

"The reason I come is mainly to honor you and thank you for all that you have done for so many years, because you were really a symbol," President Sakellaropoulou said. Addressing the president of the village and its residents, she added: "The soul of Greece was here. By helping all of those people you have all shown the empathy and solidarity that humanity needs today."

Asylum backlog

Five years after the peak of the so-called refugee crisis, figures released earlier this month showed that there are almost 100,000 asylum applications pending in Greece, with thousands of people stranded in camps that remain dangerously overcrowded.

Despite a dip in arrivals in Greece over the spring and summer so far, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of asylum seekers (not just those with asylum decisions pending) in Greece is 120,000, according to the latest data released by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Of that number, 39,700 are on the islands, with 80,300 on the mainland in various locations from Athens to the northern land border at Evros. 

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