My Refugee Journey – Friday 11th March 2016
My first real day off since I got to Lesvos on 6thApril… I’ve hurt my back enough for the Doc to give me two days off. Day was spent doing admin so I guess not totally a day off but sat down doing admin on the laptop helping to recruit new volunteers. Also putting together a welcome sheet for volunteers for when they arrive giving them useful information such as where the closest bank is, where to get a local SIM card for their phone and where to buy groceries etc.
Then as night comes I join up with a couple of independent volunteers I know and head out to an area called ‘Camp Fire’ which is a part of the Lesvos coast line opposite the airport.
Camp Fire is one of the main areas along the Lesvos coast line where the small refugee boats arrive from Turkey. These small rubber dingy boats with crappy 30cc engines not fit for even crossing a lake often arrive with between 40-60 people on board. Even if these boats were safe, which they are not, I wouldn’t put any more than 10 people in them at a time.
So on arrival at Camp Fire, I’m not sure what to expect, I’ve heard many independent volunteers go down there just to be part of the action and there is also the professional Life Guards mixed up together. Supporting them along the coast there are also small rescue boats that tend to have a doctor onboard, these boats are used to guide the refugee boats in to shore safely, if which often happens the refugee boats make it past what is really quite a vast number of Coast Guard and Naval ships out there between Turkey and Lesvos. I get there about 11pm and about 30mins later a German girl called Nora gathers the crowd of volunteers for a briefing, this is my first positive surprise – This showed a real level of professionalism, guiding the untrained independent volunteers on what to do when a refugee boat arrives at their location.
So after the briefing everyone sits down and chills out, settling in for the long night ahead. Boats can arrive any time but more often between 2am and 9am, sometimes there will be just a couple of refugee boats that make it through past the Coast Guard and other times there can be 10 of these boats that make it through to just one part of the coast line with many others hitting other locations along the coast.
At around 3am we hear of the first boat arriving on the shore of Lesvos to our north where another group of volunteers are based, and information is passed to us telling of a number of boats on their way. At around 5am we get our first boat arriving about 100metres up the coast line from our location. As it arrives we set about helping the refugees off the boat lead by the lifeguards and then give them water, food, dry clothing if needed and blankets to keep them warm while we wait for the UNHCR coach to arrive to drive them to Moria to get processed.
Shortly after we have another boat arrive just south of us and another, then as dawn is breaking and we can see the sun starting to pop its head up over the Turkish horizon we see another refugee boat coming towards us, but this time it’s being intercepted by a Coast Guard ship provided by Germany. We watch the event unfold as the ship drops one of its Ribs into the water and another two Ribs from the North and South converge to help also. The Ribs (small rescue boats) help guide the refugee boat alongside the Coast Guard ship and assist the refugees climbing aboard the Coast Guard ship. At this point the coast guard then head back to Mytilini Port. Myself and a couple other journalists I have met tonight jump in the car and get ahead of the ship coming into port to photograph the refugees finally reaching the dry land of Lesvos.
I have to say, the organising and co-ordination of very un-experienced volunteers by the life guard and Refugee Boat Foundation was immensely effective and professional with them all working as a slick well organised group helping the refugees off the little boats and safely to shore.
I finish following the Camp Fire Team around 8am before heading back to the house for a sleep.