Though the Nobel Peace Prize has had its reputation badly battered in recent years by charges its moral compass has broken, it remains one the world's most prominent humanitarian awards.
And while the leaders of Europe, the United States, and other nations around the world have been accused of turning a collective blind eye to the plight of refugees fleeing their homes across Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia in recent years, a movement is underway to garner recognition for some of the unsung everyday heroes who have put their lives on the line to help those less fortunate than themselves.
"By opening their hearts the islanders sent a powerful message that humanity is above races, above nations." —Spyro Limneos, Avaaz
As the Guardian reports Sunday, an official Nobel nomination is being planned for the inhabitants of the Greek islands that dot the nation's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts for offering their courageous and humane assistance to those attempting the perilous crossing from Turkey or North Africa in hopes of a better life.
According to the newspaper:
Of the 900,000 refugees who entered Europe last year most were received – scared, soaked and travelling in rickety boats – by those who live on the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
The islanders, including fishermen who gave up their work to rescue people from the sea, are in line to be honoured with one of the world’s most esteemed awards. Eminent academics from the universities of Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell and Copenhagen are drafting a submission in favour of awarding the prize to the people of Lesbos, Kos, Chíos, Samos, Rhodes and Leros.
The nomination deadline is 1 February, but those behind the plan have already met the Greek minister for migration, Yiannis Mouzalas, who they say has offered his government’s full support. A petition on the website of the grassroots campaign group, Avaaz, in favour of the nomination has amassed 280,000 signatures. According to the petition: “On remote Greek islands, grandmothers have sung terrified little babies to sleep, while teachers, pensioners and students have spent months offering food, shelter, clothing and comfort to refugees who have risked their lives to flee war and terror.”
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While the official nomination letter is yet to be finalised, it is understood the academics, whose identities will be revealed in the coming days, will implore the Nobel committee members to accept their nomination.
"Ordinary residents of Greek islands and other volunteers have been on the front lines of Europe’s refugee crisis for months, opening up their hearts and homes to save hundreds of thousands fleeing war and terror," reads the petition on Avaaz. "For their compassion and courage, for treating those in danger with humanity, and for setting an example for the rest of the world to follow, we citizens from around the world, nominate these brave women and men for a Nobel Peace Prize."
With many thousands of refugees—most of them from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sub-Saharan Africa—still trying to reach Europe on a daily basis, the sea crossing remains the most dangerous part of any journey. In recent days alone, more than forty people, including an estimated 17 children, were killed after a pair of boats capsized in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and the Greek islands.
Spyro Limneos, an activist in Greece for Avaaz who has worked with local volunteer networks on the Greek islands says those who are rescuing refugees at sea, providing food and medical aid, and opening their homes to those in need have set an example for the world to follow.
"The people involved in the solidarity networks organised and helped the desperate when the governments weren’t even willing to recognise that the there was a crisis," Limneos told the Guardian. "By opening their hearts the islanders sent a powerful message that humanity is above races, above nations."
The Guardian also quoted 61-year-old Matina Katsiveli, a retired judge who lives on the island of Leros. Though she welcomed the gesture, Katsiveli said the Nobel Prize would be quite unnecessary. There was "reward enough," she said, "in the smiles of the people we help."