refugee crisis
A woman pulls a girl out of the water as refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing from TurkeyDimitris Michalakis/ Reuters

Greek islanders are to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after a campaign received the backing of leading academics from across the world. It comes after more than 300,000 people signed a petition asking the Nobel committee to consider recognising the islanders, describing them as on the frontline of the refugee crisis in Europe.

The majority of the 900,000 migrants who made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in 2015 landed on Greek shores, often arriving on basic wooden boats severely shaken, injured or worse. Campaigners told IBTimesUK that islanders – who at times faced 600 refugees arriving on their beaches every day – opened their "homes and hearts" in response to the crisis and helped "set the tone" for how the rest of Europe should respond.

A petition started by a Crete resident on Avaaz in November 2015 is now backed by the Greece government and eminent academics from leading universities across the world, including Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell and Copenhagen.

It called for Greek islanders to be given global recognition, saying: "Since the very beginning of the refugee crisis, fishermen, housewives, pensioners, teachers – all ordinary residents of the Greek islands and other volunteers have opened their homes and hearts to save refugee children, men and women fleeing war and terror.

"They've even risked their own lives to rescue thousands from the freezing sea waters. With their actions, they drowned fear and racism in a wave of compassion and reminded the whole world that we are one, united humanity, above races, nations and religions."

Avaaz said the group of leading academics is now preparing to submit a letter before the 1 February deadline to the Nobel committee, nominating the Greek islanders. Their identities have not yet been revealed but a draft of the letter, seen by IBTimes UK, called for the committee to recognise that a country already dealing with its own economic crisis had responded to the refugee crisis with "empathy and self-sacrifice".

It added Greece had become the "main theater of this relentlessly unfolding tragedy" and that its people had taken care of the "sick and the injured".

Spyro Limneos, an Avaaz activist from Athens who helped distribute aid on Greek islands, told IBTimesUK: "Since day one of the crisis, when there was no help from NGOs or European governments, locals on Greek islands have plugged the gap.

"I was shocked when I first arrived on the island of Leros last year to help deliver aid and saw there was no framework of support. There were just two island police officers left in charge of registering the 600 people arriving by sea every day.

"Coastguards would rescue people on the boats and the first thing they did was to call the local volunteers on the islands. Residents would then bring the people water and food, local doctors and nurses would provide medical care, and fishermen would go out to join the rescue efforts.

"The locals were left alone to deal with what was becoming the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Their actions sent a message that stands united in helping humanity, going beyond nations and religion. Awarding them the Nobel Peace Prize would send a very strong message to the world."

Limneos said while support from NGOs and governments had improved in recent months, conditions on some Greek islands had still not changed. He presented the Avaaz petition to Greek minister for migration, Yiannis Mouzalas, who he said had given it his full support.

Only individuals or organisations can be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is likely either certain locals from Greek islands will be nominated on behalf of the volunteers or the nomination will go to the "solidarity networks" of volunteers operating on each island.

As of 22 January, some 36,000 migrants have arrived to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea so far in 2016, with 113 having died during the journey.