Since I needed to recover from the long journey, I slept through the second night and turned up for deployment at 09:00pm. Towards midnight I was notified of a boat heading for ‘Katja’, south of the airport. When I arrived at the location, there were other volunteers from different groups and various nations present already. Lots of reporters, the odd spectator, doctors and rescuers were on location, as well.
The closer the boat got to the beach, the more excitement could be felt in the air – it was a strange and new sensation.
There were a thousand questions in my head:
Will I have to resuscitate anyone?
Are there injured or unconscious persons?
How many children are on board?
Abruptly we were ordered to form a corridor with the medical team to the left and all other volunteers to the right. Meanwhile everything was being prepared: sheets, clean clothing, emergency blankets, socks, shoes, food and so on were laid out so that we could provide for the refugees quickly and successfully. On top of that, the medical teams as well as the life guards are equipped with all the materials necessary for a first aid assignment.
Furthermore the UNHCR – bus (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) was notified, that a boat had reached shore and the arrivals were ready for pickup. This service by the UNHCR has recently been added – before that, people used to have to find their own way to the registry center ‘Moria’, a former prison. They had to make it there on foot in their soaking wet clothes. Depending on their landing site on the island, this could take up to two days.
As soon as the boat was only a few meters away, the life guards rushed to aid, pulling it ashore and helping people down. There were about 50-60 persons on board. Women and children are always placed in the center to ease their fear, but unfortunately most of the water will consequently gather there, which is why they are oftentimes soaked worse than the rest. Small children and elderly persons often suffer hypothermia as a result, making it an important consideration.
From the moment of the boat’s arrival it all went terribly fast and quite chaotic. I tried to gain an overview of the situation in order to understand whether anyone needed medical help; in conditions, where so many people encounter each other, it is often hard to identify who actually needs help most urgently.
Suddenly a child was put in my arms, crying and drenched to the skin. Again, a thousand questions were flashing through my mind, but I simply took action. I seized the mother and brought her to the blankets, where the changing of clothes takes place; the replacement of socks in particular, is paramount.
The most important aspect of this situation was really to give a sense of security and calm through soothing and encouraging talk. One could tell by the refugees’ eyes that they were in great fear and in a condition of physical shock.
Luckily, in this boat, other than everybody being sodden and trembling in every limb, there was no grave case. Many people do arrive with severe hypothermia, dehydration, hypoglycemia, fractures, sprains and so on, putting them in immediate need for medical assistance.
After everybody had been aided with the basics, they went to the bus to be brought to Moria.
What impressed me most on this day, was the refugees’ facial expression. One could truly read the fear and exhaustion but also the relief in their eyes. I have never seen anything like it in my life – it was truly awe-inspiring. Many were under shock, which is quite understandable, considering that these people are in open water for six hours – in darkness, drenched and risking their lives on top of it.
Suddenly there was but one question left in my head:
Just what must those poor people have been and gone through before, that they are willing to make such a dangerous journey and risk their own and their children´s lives?
Translation from German: Serena Nebo