Introduction: Syrian refugees displaced into Turkey have attempted high-risk sea migrations to reach safer destinations in Europe, most often initially arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos. These refugees were often in need of basic humanitarian assistance that has been provided in part by a new category of ad hoc grassroots organizations (AHGOs). The aim of this study was to understand the internal and external operations of these AHGOs and their role on Lesvos.
Methods: The experiences of AHGOs were investigated through a qualitative research design utilizing semi-structured interviews with organization leaders and spokespersons. AHGOs identified through media and social media sources as new Lesvos-specific organizations were purposively invited to complete an interview over phone, Skype or email. Data analysis of the transcribed interviews was performed by Systematic Text Condensation.
Results: Forty-one organizations were contacted and 13 interviews were conducted. Most organizations were formed in autumn 2015 responding to the greater influx of refugees and migrants at that time and reported an absence of professional humanitarian agencies providing aid on Lesvos. Three categories emerged from the material. Features of organizations; Features of volunteers and; Evolution of AHGOs. The organizations perceived themselves capable of evaluating needs, mobilizing resources, funding and providing quick response. The volunteers came with limited humanitarian experience and from a wide variety of nationalities and professional backgrounds, and the organizations developed while on Lesvos.
Discussion: Knowledge from our findings of AHGOs response to this complex disaster on Lesvos could be utilized in future catastrophes. We conclude that AHGOs may prove effective at providing humanitarian aid in a surge response when international non-governmental organizations are unable to respond quickly. In future complex disasters AHGOs should be recognized as new humanitarian actors and conditions should be made favourable for their operations.