Maybe you have once seen the attractive clear blue waters of Lesbos on a holiday website or, even better, maybe you’ve once been swimming in the pleasantly refreshing sea yourself on a hot summer day. To take you from that peaceful picture to the cruel image of 10.000 refugees arriving in 48 hours is simply impossible. But it has been our reality. Overloaded insecure boats full of scared women, men and children, of which most could not swim, wearing fake life vests, were hitting the north coast of the island for months. Day and night.
The Lifeguard Hellas Rescue team has been working tirelessly to save lives from the sea. At a certain point they didn’t have enough boats to rescue all the people arriving. This is when Movement on the Ground invested in a rescue boat and since then our yellow boat is roaming the coastline of Lesvos.


  • We have saved 500 lives from drowning with our lifeboat.
  • Helping 35 boats land safely in the first month of operating


When Johnny and Adil, the later founders of Movement on the Ground, spontaneously started helping out at the north coast of Lesvos they immediately realized the impossibility of the logistic challenge growing upon the island. Making sure thousands and thousands of refugees made it out of their unsafe boats on to the land was only the beginning. How to warm them up? How to comfort them? How to make sure they have a place to sleep? How to feed them? How to organize transportation? How to communicate?

Back in Amsterdam the two friends analysed the situation and worked out a plan to make sure refugees would experience a smooth and safe start of their unknown journey. They named their project ‘Sea to Safety’ and one of their first actions was rather unexpected but very clever: in their network they contacted organizers of big festivals. Even though festivals have quite a different feel, they also need to temporarily host thousands of people. Not much later four trucks full of festival materials drove from Holland to Lesbos. Think of tents, generators, light masts, hygiene equipment, crowd safety barriers, rescue and medical equipment, heaters, signage and an industrial food truck.

With the help of donations they were able to add necessities like blankets and clothing to get the refugees through the first winter.

The combination of festival equipment and ‘regular’ materials turned out to be the key leading to a successful Sea to Safety program. Since then thousands of refugees were able to make it out of the boats into an organized and safe camp providing a safe and warm place to sleep and daily meals.


  • Reception of thousands of refugee’s on Lesvos; providing water, food, emergency blankets and dry clothing, rescue equipment.
  • Restructuring and winterization of transit camp Oxy on Lesvos; installing large industrial tent heaters, independent sustainable high voltage generators, lighting facilities, signage, blankets, queuing- audio announcement systems and safety barriers to help direct people towards various areas of the camp.
  • 10,000 people made use of the heated shelters provided by Movement on the Ground


Now let’s talk about real heroes: our volunteers! Movement on the Ground would not be moving anything if it wasn’t for the big help of our volunteers. From all corners of the world we receive an ever-increasing amount of emails from people who want to help us help. Lawyers, students, mothers, yoga teachers and actors, you name it. Some take a sabbatical to join our team for a couple of months and some barely manage to escape their busy jobs for 2 weeks. They all have one thing in common: they invest their own time and money in making the world a better place. We applaud to that. Big time!


  • Our team on Lesvos consists of approximately 8-12 volunteers. Some come for 2 weeks, some for several months. They help us run our current projects.
  • These volunteers not only help us physically but also financially, they are the corner stone of our work.
  • Having people coming from various nationalities, backgrounds and having varying skills enriches our presence in the camp and often brings new creative and innovative ideas.


Movement on the Ground has had the privilege to team up with the Favela Painting, founded by the Dutch Creative duo, Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas. These collaborations have resulted in the transformation of color-less refugee camps into inspiring and colourful spaces intending to motivate and uplift it’s inhabitants. Favela Painting started in the favela’s of Rio and is now spreading around the world with the aim to bring social change through art. To see more of Favela Painting’s projects visit their website.