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Volunteers surrounding a man from Iraq who was rescued and resuscitated in Lesbos, Greece, after his boat ran into serious trouble. The man had jumped into the sea in order to lighten the boat’s load and help his fellow passengers survive

Colleen Sinsky, 27, from San Diego, California, is currently working as a volunteer with Norwegian volunteer group, Dråpen i Havet, on the island of Lesbos in Greece.

She writes:

Here’s a story from Lesvos that will never be on the news.

[Four] nights ago, the Greek Coastguard got a call that a refugee boat was hours overdue because family members back in Turkey hadn’t heard from their loved ones on board.

After searching the dark sea for hours, the Coastguard found the raft and brought everyone on board to the nearest land – a tiny fishing village – where a café was turned into a makeshift emergency room.

There, doctors and volunteers managed to save everyone, despite many suffering from hypothermia and shock, including a nine-month-old baby with Down syndrome.

Throughout the rescue, the refugees were frantically telling the aid workers that there was someone else lost at sea – so they had to continue searching.

When the engine of the raft had died halfway across the Aegean Sea, and the overcrowded raft began to fill with water, the families on board panicked.

The last of their possessions were tossed overboard, but they continued to drift and slowly sink on the dark sea.

From the edge of the raft, a tall, broad-shouldered man from Iraq spoke up. His wife and children had been killed by the rockets that destroyed his home. He was alone in the world. To give the sinking raft more time, he would jump overboard, hoping that without his weight, the others on board would have a chance of rescue.

I don’t know how long he floated, or what that frigid, lonesome night in the Aegean was like. I imagine that he looked up at the stars and thought about his wife and children, and how he would soon meet them again. I imagine that they would be proud of him.

Meanwhile, the Spanish lifeguards had heard the story and quickly mobilised jet skis, heading off into the darkness to find him.

Every once in a while the lifeguards would cut the engines, scan the choppy water with flashlights, and call his name. Eventually their light fell onto the man’s waterlogged orange life vest, and the lifeguards raced his unconscious body back to the café on shore.

Doctors and volunteers had few resources, but spent two hours administering oxygen and trying to warm him up. The doctors said that he teetered on the brink of life and death and would not have survived another five minutes in the water. But he did survive.

He eventually sat up to ask about the raft and to thank his rescuers in every language he knew. I don’t know his name or where he hopes to go, but I know that he texts his rescuers updates and gratitude daily. I hope he finds a place he can someday call home again.

It’s true that not all refugees are women and orphans. It’s true that they come from a culture that I know little about. And it’s true that it’s easier to think in broad generalisations and to let fear overshadow our responsibility towards other humans. But I would rather live in a country with that man who willingly sacrificed his life, than be part of one that would exclude him.

Thanks to Joakim B Olsen and Maria Kamal, fellow volunteers at A Drop In The Ocean, who spent a long night saving lives and told me their story.

Also to the lifeguards of Proactiva Open Arms and doctors of IsraAID.

Related: Tensions between Afghan and Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos – video (The Guardian)

Previously: In Their Backyard

Don’t Look Away

A Drop In The Aegean

56 thoughts on “Leap Of Faith

      1. All the good ones fly south for winter

        You are the anti-Mulder. “The fake is out there”. “I do not want to believe”. etc..

      2. Olga

        Hi Zuppy. I’m sorry you don’t believe the story. I can understand why you don’t. I was in Lesbos for just over three weeks and saw thousands of people arriving every day with only volunteers helping them – in the sea, after they landed or were rescued, and when many had to sleep on the street without any blankets or cover. There was little or no evidence of EU or UN support – save for some tents and blankets with UN logos. Even I struggled to believe what I was seeing. I worked with some of the volunteers photographed with the man above. I also asked Joakim, who was there for the rescue, if Colleen’s account is accurate. He assured me it is. Thanks, Olga.

    1. Chris

      You missed one player in your supposed pantomime. The bozo keyboard warrior on the internet who knows best.

  1. MoyestWithExcitement

    That’s a great story. It’d be nice if news outlets reported things like this rather than fuelling the fire.

  2. Walter-Ego

    Coming over here taking our heroes jobs……………………..and other such drivel.
    It’s sad to see the blatant racism and bigotry on social media lately. Sometimes i’m ashamed to be Irish when i see ignorant commentary and distrust on any article to do with refugees fleeing a terrible war. (see zuppy above).

      1. pedeyw

        Zuppy, I’m genuinely curious: what do you think is really happening, and what is the reasoning behind the lies and deception that you believe is taking place? Also what is your reason for disbelieving the narrative?

        1. pedeyw

          Hmm. I gave you an hour, in that hour you have answered other peoples comments but not my honest question. I think that says a lot.

        1. Weldoninhio

          No, he was a child whos family were settled in Turkey for the past few years. His family were not fleeing anything. His family had an apartment, the rent on which was paid for by Canadian relatives. His father had a job in Turkey.

          The papers set it up to look like his family were trying to escape some big war. Which was blatantly untrue.

  3. manolo

    Where’s the SBP/Red C article gone? I had a comment about the SBP’s habit of making ads look like articles. Did they get to you that quickly? You only posted it at 11:21…

      1. Lilly

        Interesting. Just remember practically everything presented as ‘news’ between now and the election is designed to manipulate you. If you’re curious about an issue, talk to multiple people and make up your own mind.

  4. Spaghetti Hoop

    So this man volunteered as human jetsam? I’m very pleased that he survived but I fail to see the heroism.

    1. Nially

      Generally, risking one’s own life in an attempt to save the lives of others is considered heroic. I could post a link to an online dictionary if that would help?

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        No dictionary required thank you Nially as I have a brain and an ability to rationalise hysteria.
        I would consider this man’s action as suicidal not heroic.

        1. Nially

          That seems like an odd interpretation. If he were suicidal, he’d have unclipped his life jacket on and let himself sink rather than kept his life jacket on and (presumably) treaded water for hours. (I say ‘presumably’ because, in my experience, even a decent life jacket requires some action on your part to keep you above water and safe for a period of hours)

          I’m curious as to your reasoning. Do you think this guy was “suicidal not heroic” because his actions put him in danger? We had our National Bravery Awards last weekend, and awarded a number of medals to people who were seriously injured (and in one case killed) putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others. (

          Are those people brave? Were there actions heroic? Or were they all suicidal actions that happened to have positive outcomes? I’m just curious as to whether your hyper-rationality and ‘hysteria’-busting applies to all situations like this, or whether this guy is special. (If it’s the latter, it may be worth considering why)

      2. MoyestWithExcitement

        On a previous post about Lesbos, Hoop made a comment about emotional bias and she’d prefer objective reports. It seems like Hoop is uncomfortable being reminded that these refugees are human beings.

  5. All the good ones fly south for winter

    This reminds me of the film with the volcano in which James Bond and his family have to go rescue the reluctant to move from her home grandmother in a boat before the volcano totally erupts lava over everything, the lake near the volcano that they end up in whilst trying to avoid the lava from the volcano is full of acid, long story short granny hops out when they lose the oars overboard in the acid lake (the boat is slowly disintegrating) and dies but manages to push the boat to the shore with her dying breath (she had big lungs), the family survives the volcano in the end, I can’t recall the name of the film, I think it was called red hot mountain. Awful film, not worth watching.

    1. Nially

      Dante’s Peak, and it’s a damn classic.

      (Disclaimer: I haven’t watched it since I was 11, it may not have stood the test of time)

  6. Mr. T.

    “So like in November? we’re going refugee helping which like totally awesome and then after that we’re off to Africa to knit jumpers for abandoned chimpanzee babies. LOOOVE Gap year”.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      Relax. You don’t need to feel ashamed of yourself for doing nothing to help. Most people don’t.

          1. Mr. T.

            Because loads of them are flakey and unreliable. Too used to their creature comforts to truly get stuck in.

  7. My Last Comment Got Deleted

    The lady with the stethoscope is extremely beautiful. But then again, allllll the ladies are extremely beautiful.

  8. Lilly

    The man has lost his wife, his children and his home. He faces an uncertain furture in a strange – and somewhat hostile – land. I don’t blame him one bit for jumping off that damn raft. What amazes me most about these stories is the incredible will to live. I don’t know that I could go on in a similar situation.

          1. meadowlark

            I hadn’t noticed that he had glasses when I looked at the picture. Lilly did. I was noting that she is sharper-eyed than myself. That’s it really. Did you read it differently?

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