Reflecting on 2021


A note from our Head of Mission, Lonneke Noteboom

With Christmas and New Year’s Eve around the corner, we tend to reflect on the past year and dream of what’s to come, and so have I. Looking back at 2021, there are many moments, both positive and challenging, to reflect on. But for me, there is one key highlight that I would like to share with you. Namely, the moment two of our Afghan team members from Lesvos walked into the Movement On The Ground office in Amsterdam…

After three long years in waiting, both received their asylum and could venture beyond Lesvos. During their time on the island, both became actively a part of our mission through our community volunteer program. Moving mountains in the Olive Groves and in the newly build Mavrovouni camp. Fixing generators that no one else could fix. Setting up tea points and a barbershop. Building a Cruyff Court. Translating Farsi to English and vice versa. Growing into a team lead and a coordinator. True movers, who seized the opportunity to improve the camps they lived in. And they did! 

The moment they walked into our office in Amsterdam everyone smiled from ear to ear. They felt welcomed, somehow supported, in taking this next step in their journey. To me, this symbolises why Movement On The Ground exists. We are on a simple mission to dignify refugee reception across the globe, with and for people on the move. So when I look at the year to come, I can only dream of enabling many more human beings to thrive. 

But we can’t do it alone. In 2022, one can only assume new challenges will come our way. But we will persevere and your ongoing support makes this possible. Together, let’s continue to show refugees they are welcome. Let’s continue to do all we can to enable refugees to thrive.

Promise To(o)

We started 2021 by making promises to determine our course of action for the year ahead. We promised to: Keep speaking from the heart, dignify the living conditions for more people on the move with our Camp to CampUs philosophy, listen and amplify the voices of those who need to be heard, build strong bridges with local communities on the ground and welcome more people, companies and organisations who want to join our Movement.

Our final home for unaccompanied minors opens in Athens

In January, our team in Athens, together with The HOME Project, opened the last of our three homes for unaccompanied minors. ‘Nisos’ is a home for unaccompanied minor boys, and like our other homes, provides a holistic set of services including; psycho-social care, education, legal support, sports and extracurricular activities.

One Hug Away

Hugs have the power to make you feel warm and loved. With our ‘One Hug Away’ campaign, we were able to raise more awareness about the current conditions people on the move are living through.

We may not have been able to make it the world's largest hug, but thanks to you, 424,694 humans felt a much needed warmth and positivity

A new journey for the residents of Kara Tepe 

In February, 80 residents of the Kara Tepe campUs on Lesvos received news of their relocation to Germany. Their waiting was overwhelmed with joy and hope. We learned from them the meaning of resilience, patience and determination and we are very happy to have them in our MOTG family!

Sports accessibility in RIC Lesvos

Education is a right, not a privilege. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, many children were unable to receive formal education inside the camps. Together with our community volunteers, we organised several interactive and educational activities for the children residents in RIC Lesvos. They were able to get to know other residents and have fun together with them. In addition, we collaborated with the Cruyff Foundation to place the first Cruyff Court inside a refugee camp. This court has provided a safe and healing space for the community of RIC Lesvos to play sport, learn and develop.

Active on Chios

In the first months of 2021, we became active in Vial camp on Chios. A team of our experienced coordinators from our other locations travelled to the island in order to set up our Camp to campUs mission with and for the Vial camp community. Starting with waste management, we were able to clear mass amounts of waste that had become an extreme safety and hygiene issue for the community. From this program, we expanded, introducing WASH facility management, construction and repairs, a community space and a sports program.

Food Unites

In April, we launched our Food Unites campaign, in order to raise money to support food accessibility for residents during Ramadan. Residents from the camps across the locations we work shared stories about what food means to them and in the Netherlands, restaurants and cafes supported our campaign through promotion. At the end of Ramadan, we hosted an online cooking event with Syrian chef Zina Abboud. Through our efforts, we were able to spread needed awareness about food insecurity in refugee camps and raised XXXX to help us purchase Ramadan packages and assist with the operations of our dignified food lines in RIC Lesvos.

The day we thought would never come...

In April, we witnessed the closure of Kara Tepe. We advocated for the residents residing in this camp allocated to the most vulnerable, to be relocated to a dignified destination. Unfortunately, they were transferred to RIC Lesvos. 

Kara Tepe was the embodiment of our Camp to campUs philosophy and a blueprint for how a refugee camp should be operated. The spirit of Kara Tepe continues to live on in our hearts and we are grateful for all of the beautiful people we were able to meet in this special place.

A cooking school for residents

After months of hard work and renovation, Ergon, a vocational training space for both refugees and locals, opened on Lesvos. Inside Ergon is a dedicated space where residents can attend culinary lessons. Here, residents can learn to prepare basic food dishes and have a place where they could share and develop their culinary skills.


Over the summer, there was an historic heatwave in Greece. Temperatures soared across the Greek islands to over 40 degrees, proving dangerous for the health and wellbeing for thousands of refugees living in camps. In response, we implemented summerisation in the camps on Lesvos, Samos and Chios, distributing fans, installing shading, and distributing essential items like hats and sunscreen.

Kalvijn x Lesvos

Thanks to the collaboration Dutch content creator Kalvijn, we were able to highlight the positive impact of the Cruyff court and our sports program for children in RIC Lesvos. In his four part IGTV series, Kalvijn mapped out the refugee situation, speaking with several young residents about life in a refugee camp and the power of sports. A big thank you to our project partners The Cruyff Foundation and the Dutch Postcode Lottery for making this happen.

“Little Amal” 

In August, the Vial camp community welcomed ‘Little Amal’. The 3.5 metre-tall living artwork of a young Syrian refugee child completed a long 8,000 km journey starting on July 27th from the Syrian-Turkish border all the way to the United Kingdom. Whilst ‘looking for her mother and finding her way through a new life’ she continues to raise awareness of the challenges faced by every human on the move, especially the children.

With Afghans We Stand

In light of the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, we demonstrated our support for all the Afghans on the move.  We created an online movement to stand with and for the rights, talents, skills, hopes and dreams of all Afghan people.  Everyone that supported the movement shared inspirational stories, images, selfies, art and poems using the hashtag  #WithAfghansWeStand. Through this movement, we stand in solidarity with the Afghan community staying and arriving to the Greece islands.

The opening of RIC Zervou on Samos

In September, a newly built facility on Samos called RIC Zervou opened to start hosting the residents living in the former Vathy camp. For us, being present in RIC Zervou brought up many mixed emotions. On the one hand, basic infrastructure is present but on the other the camp is difficult to access and lacks a feeling of dignity. Despite the mixed feelings, we made the decision to work inside the new RIC, to ensure the people living inside the facility could live a more safe, enabling and inclusive life as they wait for a new place to call home.

Building new playgrounds in RIC Lesvos

Together with our resident construction team and in cooperation with the Global Design Initiative for Refugee Children, we built two mobile playgrounds for the children of the RIC Lesvos community! The playground was built with sustainable materials. Since then, we have seen many children from the community playing with each other and having a lot of fun.

The opening of our new shower project with UNICEF

Together with the project partners Watershed Foundation and IFRC and with support from Choose Love, our team of community volunteers managed to set up 36 hot shower containers with built-in heaters in RIC Mavrovouni. In collaboration of UNICEF Greece, we installed 370 showers and 655 toilers to provide water and sanitation in a safe and more dignified way. This project has been able to provide warm showers, cleanliness and safety to all the children, women and men living in the camp.

Cruyff Court in Zervou camp on Samos

In the last months of 2021, another Cruyff Court opened in RIC Zervou on Samos.  The community and visiting volunteers, coordinators and contractors set up the flooring, fences and goal posts, creating an amazing sports field! Since then, many residents, especially children, have come together to have fun, connect and train their physical and mental wellbeing while playing sports.  This was possible thanks to our partners The Cruyff Foundation and Dutch Postcode Lottery.


The rain season started and we raised a total of €8,547.50 for our Raingear campaign! Thanks to your help and support we could provide rain boots and coats for all our community volunteers!

Meeting with the Dutch King & Queen

On the 18th of November his Majesty the King Willem-Alexander and her Majesty Queen Máxima attended a meeting with our co-founder Adil Izemrane. Together with other Dutch NGOs, he was able to have an open conversation about refugee and migration topics.

His Majesty the King Willem-Alexander and her Majesty Queen Máxima were planning to visit the refugee camps in Greece later in December, but their visit was canceled due to the Covid-19.

New Kalostea in Vial camp

In June, the residents of Vial camp on Chios opened a new community space called Kalostea. In this space, residents can connect, have a cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy art exhibitions made by other very talented resident artists. In light of winter, we constructed an indoor Kalostea in a former rubhall. We hope this new 'Kalostea' space will provide needed warmth and protection for the community of Vial.

Take The Cold Out Of The Camps

With our winter campaign we were able to raise over €35,000 to help take the cold out of the camps in the Greek islands. We motivated people to go out without their jackets for at least one day and stand in solidarity with the refugees living in cold conditions. Many of you shared your photos and videos of standing in the cold without your jackets and we want to say thank you for your action and fundraising efforts. With this funding, we will be able to provide thermal clothing, emergency tarps, warm community spaces and operate hot tea points throughout the winter.

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