Should Greek islanders win a Nobel Peace Prize?

Nearly 300,000 people have petitioned to nominate residents on Greek's Aegean Islands for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing volunteer efforts to care for more than 800,000 migrants who arrived this year alone. 

Santi Palacios/ AP/ File
A Syrian man kisses his daughter after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea in a dinghy, in this November 2015 file photo. More than one million migrants entered Europe in 2015, mostly by sea; more than 3,700 died in the attempt.

If the signatories to a popular petition have their way, Greek islanders who have put aside their own country's economic crisis to care for more than 800,000 migrants during their first hours in Europe will be nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

Ordinary Greek citizens have "opened their homes and hearts to save refugee children, men, and women fleeing war and terror," reads the petition on, which had attracted more than 290,000 signatures by Sunday afternoon:

With their actions, they drowned fear and racism in a wave of compassion and reminded the whole world that we one, united humanity, above races, nations and religions. Now we have a massive opportunity to help them shine their light even brighter, and show governments that people care and demand urgent action.

Greece's Alternate Minister of Immigration Policy, Ioannis Mouzalas, has allegedly offered support to the nomination, as have a group of academics from around the world, according to the Guardian. Nobel protocol dictates that formal nominations, which are due February 1, come from specific qualified groups including members of parliaments, international courts, and former winners.

More than one million "irregular" migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe during 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, and more than 3,770 died at sea. Ninety-seven percent of arrivals came by sea, often risking the journey in flimsy dinghies from northern Africa or Turkey. 

More than 820,000 first landed in Greece, overwhelming a country already beleaguered by its own debt crisis, where public services like food pantries and homeless shelters were running thin for citizens well before the migrant crisis intensified. During the first quarter of 2015, one quarter of adults were unemployed.

In the Aegean islands, which lay just miles from Turkey, residents of Lesbos, Kos, Leros, and other islands have joined international volunteers in welcoming migrants, frequently helping to save passengers whose boats are in danger as they approach shore. 

Last April, 34-year-old army sergeant Antonis Deligiorgis was relaxing off-duty at a cafe with his wife as a boat began to capsize in a storm off the coast of Rhodes. Images of Sgt. Deligiorgis diving in and carrying 20 people to safety made headlines around the world, and the Greek government has since awarded him the Cross of Excellency. 

Many images captured the moment he carried a pregnant Eritrean widow to shore. Days later, when her son was born, she named him after Deligiorgis. The mother and child have since been granted asylum in Sweden.

"I did what I had to do," Deligiorgis told the Guardian, saying he often thinks of the passengers who were not saved that day.

Although he's one particularly dramatic example, many publications have reported on the efforts from visiting volunteers and Greek residents to help provide clothing, food, and medical care as migrants prepare for the next step of a grueling journey. Many accuse the Greek government and international aid agencies of an inadequate response.

Yet those accusations go both ways. Some professional groups believe that volunteers' efforts, if well-intentioned, are amateurish or even unsafe, such as trying to rescue migrants at sea with vessels abandoned by earlier arrivals. 

Many refugees say that housing and hygiene are in short supply. 

"We thought we were going to a civilized place," a young Syrian man told the Monitor last summer. "Not this."

Few migrants want to stay in debt-ridden Greece, and many are frustrated at how slowly they're registered before given permission to move on. But some locals are eager to see them go, too, fearing it will hurt the tourist-based economy.

A Nobel for those who are pitching in could set "an example for the rest of the world to follow," the petition to nominate islanders says. 

Awardees must be individuals or organizations, meaning that a potential Nobel nomination would likely go to organized volunteer networks. 

"Solidarity networks organised and helped the desperate when the governments weren’t even willing to recognize that the there was a crisis," Greek activist Spyro Limneos told the Guardian.

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