Tag Archives: lesbos

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Boats of refugees approaching Lesbos island and filmmaker Conor Maguire

Conor Maguire and Paul Webster are two freelance filmmakers based in Dublin.

They write:

In 2015, over 500,000 refugees have made their way to Lesbos island from Turkey via overloaded inflatable rafts. This represents 59% of all refugees who made their way to Greece last year. Projections are that refugee numbers making the dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea could double this year.

Lesvos is a tiny community that has found itself at the centre of a vortex: the greatest migration of people since World War Two. We wish to travel to Lesvos in March as a two-person crew to document the situation.

Against the backdrop of international stalemate, clashing ideologies, technocratic power plays, economic ruin and a war that could spark something terrifyingly large, people are showing the best and worst of humanity on one small island.

We wish to speak with volunteer and professional aid workers, local residents, on-site journalists and, most importantly, refugees to document this critical juncture in European history.

We are launching this campaign to raise €3,000 to cover only the most basic aspects of our work: transport, accommodation, insurance and food. Everything else will be covered by us.

Our aim is to create a short documentary that is as shareable and mobile as possible. We think this is an important story to cover in an unfiltered way, without politics or ideology. We hope you think so too and help make this production viable.

Those who wish can donate to Conor and Paul’s fund here

Previously: A Letter From Lesbos

A Drop In The Aegean

Pic: La Kaseta

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A video of the Turkish Coastguard water cannoning a dinghy full of refugees as it attempted to travel from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece last October

You’ll recall the €22.9million that Ireland is contributing to the €3billion the European Council is giving Turkey to “stem the flow of migrants to Europe”.

Further to this…

Solidarity group Platanos, which is based on the north of Lesbos island, Greece, reports:

The refugees that arrived Wednesday at Platanos Camp, were soaking wet and in shock because, as they explained to us, the Turkish coastguard tried to force them to return to the Turkish coast with the use of threats, by creating artificial waves and by the extensive use of water cannons.

Two of the boats returned to the Turkish coast with all the passengers in shock. The remaining two boats managed to break through and reached Skala Sykamias, Lesvos.

[On Thursday] at 3 o’clock in the morning, the Greek Coastguard attempted to stop a new boat from reaching the coast at Skala Sykamia resulting in havoc, and the boat almost crashed on sharp rocks. The accident was prevented at the last moment by the intervention of the rescue boat belonging to the team ‘Sea Rescue’.

[On Thursday] morning, the Turkish coastguard was sighted from the ‘Korakas’ Observation Post repeating its deliberate attacks against boats in the middle of the sea, again by the use of water cannons.

Previously: Ireland And The Turkey Refugee Facility

We Can Bus The Refugees To Greece 

Video: Daphne Tolis

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Hundreds of thousands of lifejackets in a makeshift dump outside Eftalou, northern Lesbos in early December; and former chair of Goldman Sachs International and UN Special Representative for Migration, Peter Sutherland

Just before Christmas, Ireland’s former Attorney General and the current United Nations Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland criticised the European Union for its response to the refugees and migrant crisis

During a speech, entitled ‘Migration – The Global Challenge Of Our Times’, at the Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture at the RTÉ Radio Centre on December 17, Mr Sutherland, said: “Ruinously selfish behaviour by some member states has brought the EU to its knees.”

In addition, the Irish Times reported:

‘On the way forward, Mr Sutherland said EU member states would be wise to take a “bold step” towards a single European border agency and, eventually, a single European asylum agency. Europe had to properly fund organisations such as the [UN’s] World Food Programme, which was feeding refugees in sprawling camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. He said it was immoral that the only pathway Europe offered to desperate refugees to access protection was to cross the perilous Mediterranean at great cost and risk of death.’


There are 2.2 million Syrian refugees registered in Turkey – 250,000 to 350,000 of whom are living in Government-run refugee camps, with the remaining Syrian refugees living in Turkey left to fend for themselves without access to legal employment.

In 2014, Amnesty International reported:

“According to Turkish government sources, only 15 per cent of Syrian refugees outside official camps receive assistance from humanitarian agencies and organisations. The need to provide basic food and shelter means that families resort to desperate measures to try and make ends meet – even putting their children to work.”

There are also approximately 230,000 asylum-seekers from other countries in Turkey while Lebanon and Jordan are hosting 1.1 million and 633,000 Syrian refugees respectively.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) – referred to by Mr Sutherland in his speech – is described as the ‘food assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security’.

In September of last year, the Guardian reported that the UN’s humanitarian agencies were “on the verge of bankruptcy and unable to meet the basic needs of millions of people because of the size of the refugee crisis in the Middle East, Africa and Europe”.

It reported:

The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and healthcare, have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving fresh waves of refugees north-west towards Europe and aggravating the current crisis.”

“This year the World Food Programme cut rations to 1.6 million Syrian refugees. The most vulnerable living in Lebanon now only have $13 to spend on food each month, a figure that the WFP warned would leave refugees vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups. “

In the same Guardian article, it was reported that the UN only received $0.9 billion of the $2.89 billion it requested for its Syria Regional Response Plan.

It explained:

“The majority of the UN’s humanitarian work is funded entirely by voluntary donations from individual governments and private donors, with agencies such as the UNHCR and Unicef receiving none of the regular budget that member states pay into the UN’s central coffers.”

[UN high commissioner for refugees, António] Guterres is leading calls from within the UN to change this system and ask member states to make more regular payments to the main agencies.”

More recently in a TED talk, Mr Guterres said the sharp increase in refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 was largely prompted by the dire conditions facing refugees – particularly in Lebanon and Jordan – which were, in turn, largely due to lack of UN funding.

He said:

“The living conditions of the Syrians in the neighboring countries have been deteriorating. We just had research with the World Bank, and 87 percent of the Syrians in Jordan and 93 percent of the Syrians in Lebanon live below the national poverty lines. Only half of the children go to school, which means that people are living very badly. Not only are they refugees, out of home, not only have they suffered what they have suffered, but they are living in very, very dramatic conditions.”

“And then the trigger was when all of a sudden, international aid decreased. The [UN] World Food Programme was forced, for lack of resources, to cut by 30 percent food support to the Syrian refugees. They’re not allowed to work, so they are totally dependent on international support, and they felt, “The world is abandoning us.” And that, in my opinion, was the trigger. All of a sudden, there was a rush, and people started to move in large numbers and, to be absolutely honest, if I had been in the same situation and I would have been brave enough to do it, I think I would have done the same.”

Such cuts in funding could explain the following.

Between January 1, 2015 and November 14, 2015, an estimated 387,340 people had arrived on Lesbos via rubber dinghies – with the vast majority of these people arriving on the north of the island and spending a night there, in ill-equipped transit camps, until travelling down to Mytilene in the south for registration the following day.

Since November 29 – when the €3billion EU/Turkey deal was struck – the majority of boats arriving on Lesbos have been arriving on the south of the island.

When people arrive off boats they are generally soaked, very cold and their few possessions are either also soaked, and therefore abandoned, or were lost at sea. Some arrivals say they haven’t eaten for days.

According to figures obtained from the UNHCR, as of November 13, 2015 – when there were four “roving” UNHCR staff working in northern Lesbos – the UNHCR had provided the following by way of food, blankets and clothes in the area:

50,400 high-energy or sesame bars. These included 19,600 high-energy bars in Skala Sikaminias; 12,300 high-energy bars and 3,600 sesame bars in Molyvos; and 14,900 high-energy bars in Mantamados. They were distributed via their partner groups Starfish, MsF, Eurorelief, Samaritan’s Purse and the International Rescue Committee.

16,390 blankets. These included the distribution of 2,810 blankets in Mantamados, 3,605 in Skala Sikaminias and 9,975 in Molyvos.

1,913 raincoats. These were distributed in Molyvos.

The UNHCR spokeswoman said:

“UNHCR has significantly ramped up its presence in Lesvos and UNHCR staffing is being increased. Thirteen additional staff have been deployed, many speaking the language of the refugees, and bringing the total staff on Lesvos to 30. As you are aware, the situation is very challenging in all areas. At the North, new arrivals neither stay nor get registered by the Greek authorities. Thus, it is important for us to also focus in providing them protection and assistance the accommodation/registration sites near Mytilene, where people stay for a longer time than in the north.”

“UNHCR staff engage in a range of activities. Among others, they provide information to the new arrivals as regards the situation on the island, the processes that they have to go through, their rights and responsibilities…”

Alessandra Morelli, regional operations chief for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, recently spoke of her appreciation of the efforts of volunteers on the island of Lesbos, telling the Wall Street Journal: “Everyone recognises [the volunteer efforts]. But “now it’s time to bring professionals.”

Further to this.

In an open letter to the former chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Mr Sutherland – that has been circulating on social media and Reddit in recent days – a man called Patrick Holland writes:

“This refugee problem was brought about by the so called policy of ‘regime change’ favoured by some members of the US government and their lobbyists and the military-industrial business people, banking and big oil interests, including the neo conservatives…”

“Massive amounts of money are being made from these wars, supplying all sides of the conflict. Many newspapers report increased revenues and profits for military industrial interests and large banking interests which are involved in these conflicts in the Middle East. Several of these neo conservatives, lobbyists and military-industrial business people, banking and oil interests, are personal friends of yours, Mr Sutherland, you have met them in Bilderberg meetings, Trilateral Commission meetings, European Roundtable meetings, Goldman Sachs meetings, BP meetings, and WTO meetings.”

“You should get these people to stop their wars, stop their game playing in the Middle East. Use your influence, your power, your position, the press and media, your political connections, and your Goldman Sachs, Bilderberg and Trilateral connections to do this. This would help end the refugee problem…”

Selfishness on refugees has brought EU ‘to its knees’ (Irish Times)

Related: The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?Charlie Skelton (The Guardian, July 12, 2012)

Previously: In Their Backyard

Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

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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

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From top: Eric and Philippa Kempson, a British couple who’ve been living in Lesbos for 16 years; and people taking pictures of refugees arriving in Lebsos, including a UNHCR worker 

Reporter and ‘sheet contributor Olga Cronin has just finished volunteering with the refugees arriving in Lesbos, Greece.

The failure of the UN to address the crisis has been a feature of Olga’s stay but one couple whose home has become a refugee centre may help change that.

Olga writes:

I had read about Eric and Philippa Kempson before I arrived on the island of Lesbos, Greece in mid-October and was very much hoping to meet them.

A couple of days into my stay there, I felt very lucky to be introduced to them and to learn they worked closely with the Norwegian volunteer group I had joined, Drapen i Havet.

If I admired the couple before ever meeting them, I felt utterly humbled by them after three weeks in Lesbos.

Eric and Philippa, originally from Winchester, England, and Newport, Wales, respectively, have lived in Lesbos for 16 years. Along with their daughter Elleni, they dealt with the crisis unfolding less than 100 metres from their home single-handedly for months before any volunteers or NGOs arrived to provide assistance.

Eric was even banned from the beaches for some time earlier this year, after he tried to erect a tent on a beach. Weeks later, after the number of refugees arriving started to rise sharply, the Greek authorities came to him for help.

From the outside, their pretty, cosy home doesn’t resemble a place to live but instead has the hallmarks of a crisis centre – with loads of cats.

Numerous make-shift extensions have been made to the back of their house, swallowing up space in their large back garden full of olive trees, where boxes upon boxes of donated clothes, shoes, blankets and other essentials are stored.

Piles of unopened boxes sit under plastic tarpaulins waiting to be stored away as the donations pour in from around the world.

A stand-alone, for now defunct shop – where wood carver Eric used to sell his artwork – sits at the side of their house and, as it’s equipped with a shower, toilet and kitchenette, it has become a place where refugee families are often brought to shower, change and get something to eat, before continuing their journey.

Many, many volunteers and journalists traipse in and out of the Kempsons’ home, at all times of the day and night, either to collect essentials, get information, or sit with them over a hot cup of tea or cold beer to unravel whatever traumatic event happened that day.

As thousands upon thousands of people arrive on the shores outside the Kempsons’ home in Eftalou, day in day out, Eric and Philippa’s mammoth effort to ensure these people come ashore safely, change out of their wet clothes and get food and water isn’t something they might choose to do one day and not bother with the next.

Helping them is their life.

Even some refugees coming ashore, who spot long-haired Eric, shout, “Mr Eric, Mr Eric!”, most likely because he exhaustively posts videos on YouTube about what’s happening in Lesbos almost daily.

Always armed with a smile and a dry sense of humour, softly spoken Philippa could be a counsellor at this stage – given the countless hours of warm empathy I’ve seen her extend to the distressed volunteers who come and go, myself included.

Eric doesn’t mince his words and has little time for niceties, mainly because he’s a man with a huge heart facing a gargantuan challenge head-on.

It’s obvious he’s exhausted and exasperated from broken promises.

And it’s easy to see why.

Last Monday Eric travelled to Glasgow in Scotland where he was invited to speak at a Positive Action In Housing event.

In his speech, which can be viewed here and read here, Eric bluntly recounted the harrowing events of the previous week.

He told those in attendance about multiple boats sinking, many bodies being found and dangerous rescues being carried out by untrained volunteers.

He talked about the EU giving €3billion to the Turkish government, in order to curb the procession of refugees from Turkey to Greece, and how he has sadly witnessed the Turkish coastguard trying, often successfully, to sink boats.

He also spoke about the blatant lack of professional expertise present on the island and how the UNHCR does very little, despite having an office on the island.

He also claimed that he’s seen a worrying rise in certain NGO groups – including the Red Cross – raising huge amounts of money for the crisis in Lesbos with little, or nothing, to show for it.

Anyone who has been to northern Lesbos in recent months won’t think Eric’s claims, particularly about the UNHCR, are outlandish.

Every volunteer and journalist I met during my three weeks whispered the very same thing, with a bewildered look on their face: Where is the UNHCR? Where are the experts?

After Eric gave his speech, the UNHCR and the Red Cross both issued statements to Third Force News in Scotland, dismissing his claims.

But all was not lost.

Interestingly, Eric’s trip to Scotland may have yielded some small hope for the refugees who will land in northern Lesbos this winter – all because of a chance meeting with Alessandra Morelli, the UNHCR’s Senior Operations Coordinator for Greece, in the departures lounge of the Mytilene International Airport in Lesbos, just before he flew to Athens and then Glasgow last Monday.

Eric had met Ms Morelli before.

In mid-October, when UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited the island, and there was a heavy media presence, Ms Morelli, who was accompanying Mr Guterres, appeared next to Eric as he was helping to bring in a boat of refugees.

He recalled: “She said, ‘I know you, don’t I? You’re Eric’. I said, ‘I need help.’ I told her, ‘More people are going to die in the winter unless we get tents on the beaches with heaters, blankets and oxygen.’”

The Kempsons need assistance in getting permission from the local authorities to erect the tents on the beaches.

After speaking with Ms Morelli, Eric claims she gave him the first name and number of a woman who works with the UNHCR who, Ms Morelli said, would liaise with Eric and Philippa.

“[Ms Morelli] said, ‘she can get you whatever you want’,” said Eric.

Several days passed and neither Eric nor Philippa heard anything. So Philippa texted the number she was given for the woman, called Lucia. I’ve seen the following texts.

In response to Philippa’s initial text, Lucia responded:

“Hallo there! Thanks to you all for the excellent job you do. Will stay in touch and continue discussing so we can get you more supplies. Cheers.”

Within minutes, Philippa texted Lucia back:

“It would be good if we could discuss the idea of tents on the beaches when you have time. Thanks.”

Three days later, Philippa texted Lucia again:

“We need to discuss these tents as soon as possible. The weather is changing now and it will become urgent.”

Lucia replied:

“Hi there, I gave your contact to my colleague in Molyvos so he will contact you to discuss the needs. Thanks.”

Philippa immediately replied:

“Great, thank you.”

Two days later, Philippa texted Lucia again:

“I haven’t heard anything. This is an urgent issue as the weather is changing.”

Philippa never heard from Lucia again.

This series of texts, and the numerous failed attempts to get hold of anyone in the UNHCR who would listen to him and his wife, was fresh on Eric’s mind when he eyed Ms Morelli in the departures lounge of Mytilene International Airport last Monday.

A discussion between the pair followed and, once again, Ms Morelli promised to get Eric whatever he wanted.

“I told her, ‘Until you prove it to me I’m not going to believe anything you say,’” said Eric.

Before Eric’s plane had even landed in Athens, where he had a short stopover before continuing to Glasgow, a representative from the UNHCR called to Eric and Philippa’s home in Eftalou – a visit I witnessed.

Eric returned to Lesbos on Thursday and, on Friday, this representative met with Eric and they discussed plans to place tents on several beaches which would be equipped with heaters and oxygen tanks.

They also talked about getting stretchers and wheelchairs for Molyvos Harbour.

Eric and Philippa don’t believe this meeting would have happened had he not met Ms Morelli in the airport.

Nothing is set in stone but Eric is cautiously hopeful of finally getting what he has been pleading for, for a very long time – help from people who are experts when it comes to refugee crises.

“This has been going on for 10 months. I’ve been screaming for help for 10 months,” he said.

Leading aid agencies say they are not abandoning refugees (Third Force News)

Previously: Don’t Look Away

A Drop In The Aegean

Pics: Protothema and Katja Lihtenvalner

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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

Gabriel Green Volunteers take a possible smuggler to shore on Lesvos, Greece Saturday afternoon after the man was rescued by two Spanish lifeguards as he attempted to float back to Turkey on a partially deflated raft after delivering a group of refugees. He was later delivered by volunteers from Drop in the Ocean to a police station in Molyvos.

Volunteers, left and right, bring a man ashore after he was rescued in Lesbos, Greece, before he was brought to a police station in Molyvos

Olga Cronin, currently in Eftalou on the island of Lesbos, Greece, writes:

Around lunchtime on Saturday, a group of volunteers had just finished bringing in a boat of refugees along the dirt road between Eftalou and Skala Sykaminia in Lesbos, Greece, when a local man came running, shouting for help.

He had spotted what looked like the remains of a dinghy appearing and disappearing in the rough white-tipped waves of the Aegean Sea and believed there was a person in it.

Several volunteers from different organisations followed the man and searched for the dinghy. When they did spot it, it was too far out to do anything.

From the cliff edge, a photographer took a picture of a black blob bobbing in the distance and the grainy image showed a man hanging on to a section of black rubber, his arms stretched out either side, Christ-like.

Two lifeguards from Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms rescued the man on a jet-ski and dropped him off around 20 metres from the shoreline where the volunteers had assembled and waited to offer him help, some standing by with gold emergency blankets and water.

But as one volunteer jumped in to help the man out of the water, what appeared to be the start of a happy ending – just days after a boat believed to be carrying up to 300 people sank and a day after several bodies of naked men, women and children washed up on the shores of Lesbos – quickly turned into something very ugly.

Instead of reaching out to welcome the man, the volunteer pushed him, kicked him and shouted, ‘This is a smuggler, this is a smuggler. I’m 110 per cent certain this is a smuggler’.

The volunteer then dragged the man ashore, hitting him intermittently. The man was dressed in a wet suit, life-jacket, had a black bag strapped to his back and clutched a pair of flippers.

As a pack of photographers started to gather at the shoreline, the volunteer yelled that he had helped a dinghy of refugees arrive safely earlier in the day and that a man, who stayed on the boat, had attempted to head back to Turkey using the same boat he used to reach Lesbos.

The volunteer said he was certain this was the same man who had just been rescued.

He then claimed that, after concluding the man was a smuggler from Turkey, he stabbed the boat. This resulted in the man being washed out to sea and clinging to the remains of a dinghy.

As this volunteer dragged the man out of the water, several other volunteers joined the mob. They shouted at him, hit him, kicked him in the back, slapped him in the face, telling him, ‘go back to the sea, go back to Turkey.’

One volunteer shouted at him, saying he was a murderer, another roared that he was Satan, another threw stones at him.

The man, who was made sit on the rocky shore, shivered as the shouting, hitting and slapping continued. The situation intensified when one volunteer started to go through his bag and pulled out jewellery, a knife and even an empty SIM card holder. ‘This is what he stole from refugees,’ one volunteer told the photographers surrounding him.

Meanwhile, several other volunteers tried to calm the situation with one remarking, ‘The only reason he’s still alive is because photographers are here.’

One volunteer tried to tell the men to stop hitting him, telling them the fate of the man was not up to volunteers, another put an emergency blanket around the man and another tried to call the Greek police.

The stand-off between the volunteers who wanted to harm the man and those who wanted the police to handle the situation continued for some time.

As nobody answered when the police number was called, one volunteer – who was trying to prevent the man from being hurt – suggested that he drive the man to the police station in nearby Molyvos and that one of the men who hit the alleged smuggler should accompany them. A volunteer with a video camera and a photographer also drove to the station with them.

The volunteer who drove to the police station later said that the man was taken inside for questioning and that they could hear him being beaten as he was questioned.

The current status of this man is not known as of today, but a query has been placed with the General Secreteriat of Information in Lesbos.

This is what’s happening in Lesbos.

As the UNHCR and EU continue to coldly turn a blind eye to the utter chaos consuming this short stretch of coastline, untrained volunteers are not only trying to fill the void created by the absence of professional expertise – by making well-intentioned but dangerous attempts at being lifeguards, nurses, crowd controllers and trying desperately to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to thousands of people every day – some are now trying to be judges, juries and, chillingly, executioners.

Pic: Gabriel Green

Related: As More Children Drown, Volunteers on Lesbos Say Rescues Are Left Largely to Them (New York Times)

Previously: A Drop In The Aegean

Letter From Lesbos


A statement from the Secretariat General of Information & Communication reads:

On 31/10/2015 a 43-year-old Turkish citizen was arrested by Mytilene police officers in an area of Mytilene because he was not in possession of the documents required for him to stay in our country according to law number, etc.

In application of law, etc., on 3/11/2015 the director of Lesvos police issued a decision to return him to his country of origin and he is being held until the return process is completed.

Thanks Matina Stevens

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 00.09.36

A piece of cardboard with the name and contact details of a young Syrian boy’s family that was found Sellotaped to his arm after he arrived safely in Lesbos 

Bewildered Student, an Irish volunteer currently in Eftalou on the island of Lesbos, Greece, writes:

“I had to cut this off of a Syrian boy’s arm as I was helping him to change out of his wet clothes. The boy, aged around seven of eight, arrived in Lesbos late on Friday night, after the boat he was travelling came ashore without any assistance. The boy’s older brother told me the piece of cardboard contained his identification details, should the worst happen.”

Previously: A Drop In The Aegean

Letter From Lesbos


Caoimhe Butterly writes:

I’ve spent the past few months working with various volunteer and solidarity structures in Greece, Serbia, Croatia and Calais. In response to the degrading conditions, dislocation and discrimination that many of those seeking refuge face as they travel, volunteer networks have attempted to embody practical solidarity and real welcome.

These groups have spent time with and learnt from the courage, resilience and dignity of the women, men and children who are journeying such long distances in the hopes of re-building lives of safety and stability.

I’m travelling back to Lesvos/Lesbos on November 10 with a group of experienced, calm and dedicated medics from Ireland- nurses, mid-wives, paediatric doctors, EMTs and a surgeon- and logistical support volunteers.

We will work alongside existing medical groups and volunteer networks as a mobile unit, responding to the medical and other practical needs of those surviving the winter crossing in rubber dinghies and decrepit wooden boats. We are covering our costs through friends and family so the money raised here [link below] will be spent on procuring additional medical supplies and vital medical equipment…

Medical support/solidarity, Lesvos (GofundMe)

Yesterday: A Drop In The Aegean

Pic by Radu Buema