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Papa Stratis, priest who set up NGO to help refugees on Lesvos, dies

Photo from the UNHCR

TAGS: Migration

A Greek Orthodox priest who helped set up a nongovernmental organization on Lesvos to offer comfort to refugees who reached the island has died, according to reports.

Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper reported that Father Efstratios Dimou, or Papa Stratis as he was known, died on Wednesday after slipping into a coma.

With the help of young local people, the charity Aggalia (Embrace) had been providing refugees with clothing, food, water and a place to sleep over the last few years.

“What I see are people. People in need. I cannot turn them away, nor can I kick them, nor imprison them,” he told Amnesty International in an interview two years ago. “I cannot send them back to where they came from. Nor can I throw them in the sea to drown.”

Despite suffering from a chronic respiratory problem that required him to be connected to an oxygen bottle, Papa Stratis was at the forefront of the charity’s activities since it was set up in 2009.

“These people are not migrants, they do not choose to come here," the 57-year-old priest told the UNHCR in an interview this summer. “They are children of war, fleeing bullets. They are life-seekers, they search for life, hope and the chance to live another day.”

Earlier this week, one of the locals who helped set up Aggalia, Giorgos Tyrikos-Ergas complained in a web post that the charity had been unable to cope with the demand for help from refugees on the island. He slammed the government for failing to provide extra assistance.

According to Frontex, the European Union border agency, 23,000 migrants arrived on the Greek islands by sea last week, which was 50 percent higher than the previous week.

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