Innovation and the Refugee Crisis in Greece


It didn’t take long for interesting ideas to emerge to assist in the continuing refugee crisis on Greece’s islands. Volunteers and researchers from throughout the world are descending upon Lesvos with ideas how to lend their own expertise. Some ideas are basic— yet game-changing— and can lead to saving lives, while others, uniting the power of humanity and people’s desire to help— will offer safety and warmth for the long journeys.

Robotic rescue from Texas A&M University

The Greek coast guard invited a team from Texas A&M University’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue to launch a pilot program in the waters around Lesvos featuring a robot named Emily— the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard.

To the average observer it looks like a life preserver attached to a jet ski and its operated by remote control, tethered to a 2,000-foot long rope. Capsized victims can take hold of the buoyant robot and be reeled to safety. Above, drones called Fotokites stream an overhead view and help human lifeguards and aid workers navigate the seas and pinpoint the location of the distressed people.


“We can run the boat out there and we can start plucking people that can actually hold on and get them out of the way,” says John Sims, a fire captain formerly of the US Coast Guard, who’s operating the robots for the deployment. “And then the live lifeguard can do his job and get out there to get the unconscious people.”

Upcycling Life Vests

There’s recycling— turning something old into something new, and there’s upcycling— turning something old into something useful. A group of volunteers in a refugee camp on Lesvos have created a makeshift sewing workshop and they’re transforming life vests into fashionable handbags and those doing the work are refugees themselves.


The bags will go on sale by mail-order, priced between $11-$32 and the proceeds will help fund the shelter’s continued efforts to help arriving refugees.

Upcycling Rubber Rafts

Another upcycling project involves using the rubber remnants of rafts that have carried refugees across the water from Turkey. The project was launched by The Embassy of the Displaced, a recently-founded design-based cooperative and brings together a Greek bag and luggage designer called Three Legs and a Model to make something very useful out of something discarded.


The rubber from the dinghies is waterproof and the straps and clips come from discarded life vests. The group hope to mass produce the backpacks, which are big enough to hold pillows, sleeping bags and other personal belongings.

Knitting Solidarity

Two Thessaloniki women are using the power of social media— and Facebook in particular— to organize and mobilize thousands of fellow Greek women in a nationwide knitting campaign to produce hats, scarves and gloves for refugees passing through Greece. The campaign is called Knitting Solidarity.

And although knitting itself may not be an innovation— it’s been around for thousands of years— the women’ use of Facebook to mobilize thousands of unrelated women is certainly very 21st century.

Women gather at coffee shops, in homes and restaurants to knit

Women gather at coffee shops, in homes and restaurants to knit

Irini Akritidou and Dimitra Fotiadou, the group’s organizers and grand daughters of Greek refugees from Asia Minor said they learned to knit from their own refugee grandmothers so putting their trans-generational skills to use for this generation’s refugees seemed like an appropriate contribution to the Greek cause to help people in need.