Lesbos Island: From Tourist Spot To Migrant And VIP Hotspot


The Greek tourist island of Lesbos was once known to Greeks mainly for its potent ouzo, and to the rest of world as the homeland of Sappho, the seventh century poet who immortalised love for women.

But in its new role as the main gateway into Europe for hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants since last year, Lesbos has also become a base for dozens of aid groups and an obligatory destination for European leaders, prominent artists and now Pope Francis, who is visiting on Saturday.

Here are some high-profile visitors to the island in recent months.

Sarandon and the Nobel Peace Prize

US actress Susan Sarandon was the first global celebrity to go to Lesbos for a first-hand look at the crisis.

The 69-year-old actress, who is known for her support of humanitarian causes and is a goodwill ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), later said she was trying to raise awareness on the crisis to honour her grandparents, who were Italian immigrants.

“I hope that I can make it possible for them (the refugees) to have a voice so we can understand,” she wrote in one posting.

Greek intellectuals subsequently nominated Sarandon for the Nobel Peace Prize along with a Lesbos fisherman who saved the lives of migrants and an 80-year-old local grandmother who becomes a national celebrity after she was photographed bottle-feeding a Syrian infant.

Actor Mandy Patinkin, who played CIA operative Saul Berenson on the hit television series “Homeland” also visited and urged the world to “open up our arms and our hearts to refugees that are fleeing a horrifying situation.”

Ai Weiwei, Aylan and lifejackets

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei takes a close interest in the refugees’ plight after visiting the island in late 2015.

He causes a stir in February after posing for India Today magazine on a Lesbos beach as Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose tiny body was found lying face down on a Turkish beach in September, an image that reverberated around the world.

The 58-year-old then wrapped a collection of some 14,000 life jackets discarded by migrants around the facade of Berlin’s Konzerthaus theatre.

Now a regular visitor to Lesbos, Ai has set up a studio and plans to create a refugee memorial on the island.

Angelina Jolie

Hollywood star and UN refugee agency envoy Angelina Jolie visited Lesbos in March and was allowed in the Moria camp, Greece’s largest registration camp for incoming refugees and migrants at the time.

Before leaving, she pledged to return with her family in the summer but said: “I don’t think (the refugee crisis) is going to be over soon.”


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