Don’t Look Away

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From top: The body of a man found on ‘White Boat Beach’ in northern Lesbos, Greece; and the covered-up body of another man found just a few kilometres away near Molyvos Harbour. The bodies were discovered within hours of each other on Friday

Olga Cronin, an Irish volunteer with Norwegian volunteer group Dråpen i Havet [Drop In The Ocean] on Lesbos island in Greece, writes:

Volunteers are not the only people who can be found standing on the shoreline of northern Lesbos, looking out at the Aegean Sea, waiting for refugees to arrive.

A hodgepodge of local men, and sometimes women, often gather next to volunteers as the rubber dinghies or large wooden boats come ashore, waiting to salvage what they can from the boats once they’re abandoned.

It was a group of such men, busily sifting through washed-up debri about 30 to 50 metres left of us on what volunteers loosely call ‘White Boat Beach’, who called out to us early Friday morning, saying they believed they had found a dead body.

As they were calling us to join them, a dinghy full of refugees was already quickly approaching. It wasn’t until everyone was off the boat safely and starting to walk up the the beach towards the dirt road, between Eftalou and Skala Sykaminia, that a number of volunteers, including myself, went to inspect what the local men believed they had found.

As we neared them, they started to walk in the opposite direction, certain of what they had found but, seemingly, disinclined to get involved.

They were right; there was a dead body.

I could see two blue denim jean-clad legs, topped with black shoes, jutting out from under a mangled, deflated dinghy on the pebbled edge of the shore. As I stared, dumbstruck, the legs lifted and dropped gently with the ebb and the flow of the weak morning waves.

A bright orange life-jacket was sticking up, somewhat entwined with the dinghy, shielding the person’s face from view.

Gaia Giletta, a 25-year-old nurse from Turin, Italy – and a volunteer with Norwegian group Dråpen i Havet [A Drop In The Ocean] – took a closer look.

“He’s been dead a few days,” she said before calling the Greek Coastguard.

Within 30 or so minutes, coastguard officers arrived in a pick-up truck, followed by a tired-looking coroner.

The coroner pulled the dead man by his life-jacket, out from under the dinghy, and laid him out horizontal on the stony beach.

Although the coroner didn’t have much English, he communicated with photographer Gabriel Green, who was with the volunteers, that he wanted to make sure Mr Green had taken all the pictures he needed to take, as if to say he wanted the world to see what’s happening on his island.

“Afghan, Afghan,” he said looking at the body.

After checking for documents, of which there were none, the body was placed in a white bag before it was placed in the back of the pick-up truck and taken away. The coroner sat in the back of the truck with the body.

As Ms Giletta had initially called in the discovery of the body, she later received a phone call from the coastguard, asking her to make a statement at their offices in nearby Molyvos Harbour.

Ms Giletta knew exactly where to go, as she was already very familiar with Molyvos Harbour, having been there just several nights before when the bodes of three drowned children, among others, were brought to the harbour.

She went to make her statement and was in the middle of giving it, when a number of volunteers came running in to the office, asking her to follow them as they had found a man face down in the water on the other side of the harbour wall.

Dropping what she was doing, Ms Giletta ran with the other volunteers, and found the man laid out. The volunteers who had initially found him wrapped him in a blanket to “warm him”.

But he was already dead.

Ms Giletta said: “They were asking me to resuscitate him but when I looked at his face, I could see he had been dead for a long time.”

The volunteers begged Ms Giletta to do something. To appease the distressed volunteers, Ms Giletta used her stethoscope and checked his eyes but she knew it was too late.

“It was horrible. There were a lot of people, including refugees, walking up and down the harbour and one of his [the dead man’s] eyes was open,” recalled Ms Giletta.

After a doctor officially declared the man dead, the doctor asked for a volunteer to stay with the body until the coroner arrived.

Ms Giletta and photographer Gabriel Green offered to wait.

Almost two hours later, the coroner arrived – the very same coroner they met earlier that morning.

“He seemed to be really angry with the situation,” said Ms Giletta who understands he’s the only coroner in the north of the island.

Asked why she thinks it’s important for people to see pictures of the bodies of refugees, who didn’t make the journey from Turkey to Greece, washing up on the shores of Lesbos, Ms Giletta said: “If people don’t know what’s going on here, there won’t be any more help.”

Previously: Lawless Lesbos

A Drop In The Aegean

Letter From Lesbos

Pics: Gabriel Green

58 thoughts on “Don’t Look Away

  1. ollie

    Turkey is not at war. Why would you risk your life and your familiy’s lives by making the journey to Greece?

    1. Dόn Pídgéόní

      Yes, I wonder why. If only someone had tried to answer that question, maybe in a newspaper article that was easy available using modern electronic search engines?

    2. MoyestWithExcitement

      I must have imagined that news report about a bomb killing 23 people in Istanbul 3 weeks ago.

    3. Spaghetti Hoop

      +1
      Providing aid at the nearest point of contact was agreed by consensus as the safest approach. Refugee shelters in Turkey have been set up and further EU funding is on the way to expand their capacity. Germany are particularly involved with this EU-Turkish agreement given that the majority of people risking their lives crossing the Med and Aegean are Germany-bound.

      1. Clive Northwood

        Aside from the dangerous, extremist elements seeping in throughout Turkey, the increasingly autocratic government, and the widening political divide, I think it should be noted just how many refugees are already in camps in Turkey (more than 2.1m), not to mention Lebanon which, with a population half-a-million smaller than Ireland, is home to an estimated 1.2m Syrian refugees. In Turkey, many have been housed in camps for years, and do not see signs of anything better coming soon. Children have been born in the camps, knowing nothing else (though, indeed, it’s better than knowing nothing but war). Many Syrians, I imagine, are aware that camps provide a means to sustain but not much more, and therefore look beyond Turkey.

        1. rotide

          Places like Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia?

          Or Iran, Kuwait, Saudi, Oman and Yemen?

          Or even Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan?

          1. Dόn Pídgéόní

            Egypt, Libya, Tunisia – fallen or about to.

            Iran, Kuwait, Saudi, Oman and Yemen – sure they are all great places to go…. espiecally Yemen, with all those wonderful drone attacks.

            Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan maybe, but they all have no-go areas and the last two are at wart so you would forgive people fleeing a warzone from simply moving to another.

            You’d swear you were uninformed about the realities of the world or trolling..

    4. f_lawless

      ..and, you know, the recent air strikes being launched by the Turkish government on the Kurdish people inside Turkish borders.

  2. DubLoony

    From the reports here over the last few weeks, its obvious that there is little to no officialdom on the island.
    I find that absolutely stunning given that is been going on for ages and looks like it will continue for a good while yet.
    Where are the Greek authorities?

    1. Cian

      Trying to deal with the consequences of their countries effective bankruptcy. And turning up to collect the bodies.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Yeah peaceful Turkey that saw 23 people killed by a bomb in the city centre about 3 weeks ago.

          2. Medium Sized C

            You should read the news more.

            Turkey is not peaceful.
            They are a belligerent in the Syrian Civil War and have been for some time.
            And they have recently started bombing kurdish targets, who are in turn opposed to their common enemy .
            And their leader is a nationalist authoritarian.
            And the refugee camps are horribly overcrowded.
            And they are increasingly under threat from islamist extremism.

      1. newsjustin

        Anom’s point is a simple statement of fact and shouldn’t be dismissed. The world does not fall off a cliff East of the Bosphorus. All of the nation’s outside of Europe are not basket cases.

        People have choices, even if they’re poor ones.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          Sure, it’s a choice in the same way as you can choose whether or not to flee a burning building. I mean, you don’t *have* to run for your life so it’s a choice and therefor it’s ok for sad little basement dwellers on the internet to judge people for making that choice and thus feel superior.

          1. newsjustin

            It’s more useful that throwing one’s hands in the air and telling oneself that no one has any choice.

            The solution to people drowning in the Mediterranean is a) trying to keep them out of it b) saving them if they go in c) resettling refugees AND d) trying to support societies and economies either from where people have come from or along their route, to grow and prosper. So that people feel they can have a livelihood there.

          2. Nigel

            Well that’s granting more nuance to Anomanomanom’s comment than Anomanomanom was willing to grant to Don Pidgeoni’s which was, after all, a readily-understod colloquial expression of regret at the poor choices faced by this poor man.

  3. mike

    One morning he awoke, shaved, put on his clothes, bucked that black belt and then drowned attempting to get to a place where he could earn a decent living in the absence of war.

    1. Roger Taranger

      Really…this is only the topping. Ppl die there everyday, and its almost only volunteers on the beaches to help them. When 5- 8 thousand ppl come every day without any real international support then u can talk crisis. Human trafficing are ruthless there and there are reports on torture, killing and violence every day! So all information about this getting out is very important so these ppl can get some help!

  4. rotide

    Do ye remember the uproar here about newspapers publishing photos of dead bodies in various tragedies?

    yeah, me too.

    1. Dόn Pídgéόní

      True but it depends on circumstances. I think people need to be shocked by this, it’s the only way something (whatever that is) is going to be done. Otherwise, everyone will continue wringing their hands about how awful it is while more and more people die.

  5. Cormac

    I asked In a previous thread but can anyone point me in the direction of either volunteers or groups who I can contact about trying to help directly in Greece, either by going or trying to send supplies.
    I don’t speak Norwegian so can’t make much of the group mentioned in the post.

    Thanks C

    1. Baz

      Persons of such inabilities rarely benefit extreme situations, best you stay at home and send a few euros if you wish to encourage the Norwegians encouraging dangerous activities

    2. Olga

      Hello Cormac, I’m sorry for not getting back to you in the previous thread and indeed sooner today. There are several different groups working on the north of the island but I’d recommend Drapen i Havet – if you want to volunteer or donate. If you wish to volunteer, it doesn’t matter that you don’t speak Norwegian. Everyone I worked with had excellent English. You’ll find all the details on their website, translated into English, here: http://drapenihavet.no/en/ Drapen i Havet have a great set-up and work closely with British couple Eric and Philippa Kempson, who’ve been living on the island for 16 years and have been doing a huge amount of work. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UWa9u-W6eU and https://www.facebook.com/thekempsons/?pnref=lhc This website http://lesvosvolunteers.com/ is also a good starting point if you wish to learn more. If you don’t hear from anyone immediately, it’s solely because everyone is so busy. Best, Olga.

  6. Owen

    This is very sad, mainly cause everyone has stopped caring, or have slowly become numb to it. I never really cared tbh. Not that I am a heartless p*ick, but it does not directly effect me so empathy is hard. Only high level sympathy is really possible, being honest. That baby lying on the beach a while back broke the mold. Now anything else after it is just ‘another dead refugee’.

    I’d love an intelligent person to come out with a solution/strategy to prevent the people wanting to leave Syria.

    1. Dόn Pídgéόní

      “I’d love an intelligent person to come out with a solution/strategy to prevent the people wanting to leave Syria.”

      I think I speak for everyone when I say you’re looking in the wrong place Owen!

      1. Owen

        I was more pointing out the lack of intelligence in the UN/EC in managing this situations, as opposed to expecting the good readers of BS to rally together on this one. UN/EC are passing the buck rather then addressing the problems.

          1. Dόn Pídgéόní

            I was going to go with the Montage song from Team America…

            “EVERY WELL-THOUGHT THROUGH FORIEGN POLICY AND AID DECISION NEEDS A MONTAGE”

  7. Speakeasy

    Perhaps broadsheet should have waited a while until this mans relatives had a chance to learn of his death before publishing his photo… The same rule would apply if it was an Irish person… Just a thought because obviously being online, BS is a global news app…

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