The First day – Here We Go!

On the day of my arrival, the action started that same evening. Along with a team of Spanish lifeguards, we went to the beach at 11 p.m., where it was our task to survey the southern coast.

Most boats plan for a nighttime passage since the chance of getting noticed by the Turkish coast guard or Frontex is lower after dark. While boats are still in Turkish waters, they’d be sent back to Turkey if discovered.

Our task, therefore, is to be on the lookout for lights blinking in the distance.

All volunteers meet at the campfire and get allocated to three different points. Depending on availability, there is a “medical team” on every base.

“Campfire” base, Lesbos
“Campfire” base, Lesbos

As soon as anybody spots a boat, the information about its exact position will be posted into the qualified WhatsApp group. Since several boats might arrive in short intervals, it is important that somebody always remains at the base.

In order for refugees to know where to steer to, light signals are flashed at them. Upon sighting more powerful lights, it is safe to assume that one is dealing with either Frontex or the coast guard and should avoid sending further signals, as that can bring complications.

Volunteer´s base "Campfire", Lesbos
Volunteer’s base “Campfire”, Lesbos

The Spanish lifeguards, as well as some other organisations, are equipped with a rubber raft of their own so that they have the means to receive and care for refugee’s safety before they reach shore.

This night, from Tuesday to Wednesday, was very calm. Just before sunrise, we spotted a boat, but it was intercepted by NATO, Frontex or the coastguard and brought to Mytilini (the capital of Lesbos) harbor.

Just try to put yourself into their situation: you find yourself on a tiny inflatable raft in the middle of the ocean and suddenly a huge vessel approaches you … what must it feel like?

What I was impressed with more than anything else, was the fact that if not for the volunteers, who spend the whole night at a campfire, regardless of rain, wind or snow, nobody would know of these people’s arrival. They would come ashore in the middle of the night, not even knowing where they are: in Europe or possibly still in Turkey?

It has in fact occurred, that migrants went in a circle due to darkness and unassisted steering of the boat, finally ending up back in Turkey. The smuggler, who gets paid from about 350€ to 500€ per person for this voyage, jumps from the boat after a few minutes and leaves it and its occupants to their own devices.

A few months ago those poor people had to pay to the smugglers up to 2,000 Euros for one trip; as the death toll grows the prices dropped.

Translation from German: Serena Nebo

Credits

Image Title Author License
Lifeguards Isabel Scharrer CC BY-SA 4.0
Sunrise - Coast guard volunteer´s at "Katja" base Sunrise – Coast guard volunteer´s at “Katja” base Isabel Scharrer CC BY-SA 4.0
In the background: NATO, Frontex or the coast guard In the background: NATO, Frontex or the coast guard Isabel Scharrer CC BY-SA 4.0
Volunteer´s base "Campfire", Lesbos Volunteer´s base “Campfire”, Lesbos Isabel Scharrer CC BY-SA 4.0
“Campfire” base, Lesbos “Campfire” base, Lesbos Isabel Scharrer CC BY-SA 4.0