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Spiros Galinos
Mayor of Lesbos, Greece
Awarded seventh place in the 2016 World Mayor Project

14 February 2017: Spiros Galinos has been Mayor of Lesbos (population 87,000) since May 2014. Spyros Galinos was born in Athens in March 1952 and raised in Mytilini, the capital of the Island of Lesbos. In 1990, 1994 and 1998 he was elected City Councillor of Mytilene. In 2002 he was elected prefectural councillor, assuming the duties of Vice-Prefect at the Prefecture of Lesbos. In 2009 he was elected to the Greek Parliament as a member of the centre-right New Democracy party. In March 2012, Spiros Galinos together with 10 parliamentary colleagues defected from New Democracy and founded the ultra-conservative Independent Greeks party.

Lesbos, an island in the Aegean Sea, within sight of Turkey, is home to 87,000 residents. During 2015 and early 2016, more than half a million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived on the Island. This figure represented close to 60 per cent of all asylum seekers and migrants who transited through Greece in 2015 en route to preferred asylum destinations in northern Europe.

After the EU-Turkey deal on refugees, the number of new arrivals on Lesbos has fallen significantly. In the summer of 2016, ‘only’ 6,000 refugees arrived, compared to more than 60,000 a year earlier. But while the EU-Turkey agreement allows for the return of refugees to Turkey, very few are actually sent back. One of the reasons is that most of the latest arrivals are vulnerable people like children or elderly, who, under international law, cannot be deported. They are housed in accommodation provided by the municipality and various NGOs.

When Mayor Galinos was elected in 2014, he could not have imagined that the flow of refugees would increase so dramatically the following year. "In 2014 we had only 50 people coming per day. In August 2015 the arrivals had reached 10,000 per day and from September to October we had up to 8,000 people daily," the Mayor said. When the number of drownings increased dramatically, Mayor Galinos suggested to the Greek government and European Union officials to send a ship to Turkey on a regular basis to bring refugees to Lesbos. “This would have allowed registration in an organised way without putting lives in danger.

The Lesbos Mayor also suggests allowing up to 20,000 people to settle permanently on the Island and offer them an opportunity to start a new life. With his proposal he wants to send a message against xenophobia. "Europe has nothing to be afraid of the refugees. They can be part of our communities and contribute to the economic development by paying their taxes, renting homes, the money will re-circulate in the market. This plan can be implemented as a pilot program in Lesbos and I am sure that other regions will follow."

Typical tribute:
As a retired legislator from Australia, I visited Lesbos in July 2016 with legislators from the USA, Sweden and Switzerland in order to recognize the work of the Lesbos community showing their compassion and support to the many thousands of refugees that consistently arrived on the island over a number of months.

We quickly learnt of the crucial leadership role led by Mayor Galinos who tackled the challenges directly, ensuring that refugees received the best aid and support that they could under very difficult circumstances, working with the local community to keep them on side by reassuring them of their safety and that resources would be made available to manage the situation and also to tackle extremist groups and political opportunists. We are aware that many months later he continues to play such a crucial role.

This all occurred under a financial crisis in Greece. Despite this, with support of the Mayor, the island remembered its own refugee heritage as much of its population are the children or grandchildren of refugees themselves, and highlighted the famous hospitality and welcome that is part of Greek culture.

The awarding of such a recognition will remind all that leadership is about being on the correct side of history. When faced with a severe challenge the Mayor and his team stood their mark and I believe the test of time. MORE

Further reading:
TRIBUTES