Greek Volunteers Recycle Inflatable Boats, Life Vests Into Bags for Refugees

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For the thousands of migrants arriving daily by boat to the Greek island of Lesbos, setting foot on land is only the beginning. A nascent design collective known as the Embassy for the Displaced wants to ease their trek into Europe by recycling the multitude of castoff rubber dinghies and life vests into waterproof backpacks. To fund the project, the group has turned to IndieGoGo, where it’s hoping to raise £12,000 ($17,061) to produce the bags. Embassy for the Displaced’s Stefanos Levidis says they plan to use only materials sourced along the Lesbos coast.


“The rubber comes from the dinghies that make the perilous crossing from Turkey to Greece, while the straps, clips and shoulder cushions are scavenged from discarded life vests,” he wrote on the campaign page. “The backpack is large enough to fit a few pairs of winter clothes, blankets and a sleeping bag, while it is easily sewn together out of a few rubber pieces.”

It’s a crowdfund with a difference. For one thing, you won’t find any of the usual perks associated with varying pledge amounts. All of the money raised will go to creating the backpacks, which Levidis and company plan to equip with survival basics such as thermal ponchos.

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The project addresses a couple of issues, one of which is the growing amount of debris that alighting refugees are leaving behind.

“Piles of life vests and remains of boats are abandoned upon arrival,” Levidis explained. “Many end up in the sea, or get buried in the sand to be discovered by future archaeologists, a testimony to this tragic journey, as well as an environmental liability for the island.”

At the same time, many of the new arrivals appear unprepared for the crossing that still lies ahead.

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“[The] refugees have enough dry clothes, blankets and sleeping bags, but are under-equipped when it comes to waterproof bags that can fit their few belongings and last them through the journey,” Levidis said. “Using the rubber that comes from the dinghies to make durable, waterproof backpacks ,and other survival tools tackles both problems at once.”

All production will take place at Pikpa, an “open, self-organized” refugee camp on the island.

While a single dinghy can result in about 20 backpacks, the volunteers are unable to move ahead without the wherewithal to pay for heavy-duty sewing machines and unsalvageable materials such as thread and elastic cording.

“If governments do not wish to assist these people in their quest for safety, then citizens, be it lifeguards, volunteers, or designers, should at least try,” he added.

+ NoBorders Backpack on IndieGoGo

+ Embassy for the Displaced

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