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Last of Lesbos Greek Grandmothers Who Helped Refugees Dies

Greek grandmothers Lesbos island, Greece
Last of Lesbos Greek Grandmothers Who Helped Refugees Dies. Above: Eftrastia Mavripidou and Aimilia Kamvysi meeting the Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in 2020. Credit: Katerina Sakellaropoulou/Facebook

Aimilia Kamvysi, the last of the three iconic grandmothers of Lesbos island who became a symbol of solidarity during the refugee crisis of 2015, has died at the age of 93, it was announced on Sunday.

She was one of the three “grandmothers of Sykamnia,” whose touching picture taking care of the baby of a refugee woman went viral, making them famous worldwide.

Kamvysi, who was bottle-feeding the baby, was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, something that baffled her.

Among the three elderly friends seen in the iconic picture by Lefteris Partsalis, Maritsa Mavrapidou was the first to pass away, in 2019, aged 92, while her cousin Efstratia Mavrapidou expired in February 2022, at the age of 96.

Grandmothers of Lesbos welcome refugees

“We welcomed refugees because we’re descended from refugees, too,” Maritsa Mavrapidou had told interviewers, reminding everybody that she and her family had arrived on Lesbos nearly a century ago as refugees from what was then the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey).

“We sympathize with them because our mothers went through the same,” she added.

“I remember when one young mother got off the boat and fell right into my arms,” Kamvysi told another interview. “She just cried and cried. She understood that we loved her.”

During the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016, over one million people traveled across the Greek seas and land borders to the European Union from Turkey.

Lesbos was a central access point for them, due to its proximity to the Turkish shores.

Syrian refugees, in particular, escaped the bloodshed in their country by traveling to Greece by way of Turkey at the time.

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