Today I helped my first group of refugees come ashore. Only one girl was in shock from hypothermia, she had to be carried because she was losing consciousness. The event I’m going to try to describe is one of the most powerful moments of my entire life, and I’ve seen a lot.
Three of us were in a car on the day shift sitting on the edge of a cliff scanning for boats. All day we stared at Turkey, scanning the beach for any movement, for it’s only 4-8 miles across: the final leg into Europe.
It had been roughly 2 hours when all of the sudden we thought we had seen something. For about 10 minutes we kept looking until about 2 miles out we finally could see. Bright orange/red sticking out against a backlay of foaming dark water and whitecaps. Waves were 4-8 feet, the boat, scarcely 2 feet from hull to top. Most would refer to it as a zodiac or rib-boat.
We immediately notified our coordinator, who notified both the Greek Coast Guard and the Norwiegen Rescue Boat. Within 5 minutes, all 140 NGO’s on the island knew a boat was coming in, all 2000 volunteers received a text or facebook message. Every volunteer was racing to help bring in this boat. Today no one was expecting zodiacs due to the waves, we were looking for solid-hull boats. You could see the Greek Coast Guard and Rescue Boats screaming across the straits to intercept the refugees. 1). To ensure safety due to waves, wind, etc. 2) to help tow them. (a 30hp outboard is what’s used to move 40 people in a boat) and 3) to intercept the refugees before the Turkish Coast Guard turned them down or rammed them to make them sink. Time race.
The one way “road” on the cliffs to the beach would be considered more of a 4 wheeler path. We were lucky that it hasn’t rained lately because the grade is steeper than American roads would allow. They’re all gravel, just wide enough for European cars to fit on, on cliffs 2-800 feet in the air with no guard rails. But it was still a race. Though we were the first to spot the boat, we were not the first to `1 including the rescue boats. Volunteers from everywhere: Greeks, Brits, French, Swedes, Norweigens, Slovaks, The Dutch, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Americans, Pakistani’s, Iranian’s, etc.
I have both participated and observed full infantry battalions do missions that had been rehearsed for days. Today I saw the smoothest, unrehearsed, multi-NGO, mulit-national cooperation and coordination. For that matter, volunteers who spoke English as their first-language fall in a 5% category. Luckily everyone in Europe is educationally advanced and speak 2-3 languages fluently. Today I saw humanity’s heroes and I’ve have never felt so proud to wear my humanitarian reflective vest. My new uniform.
I must switch subjects now, for after all this is all about politics. While the UN payed the Turkish government to aid the refugees, it’s actually a humanitarian nightmare the way the Turks have treated the refugees. Upon entering Turkey, the refugees will be extorted the entire way, most refugees say the animals get treated better than themselves. They sit in the forest for several days while they wait for a chance for the mafia to smuggle them. To obtain passage, the refugees pay $500-$2000 a head to get across, the mob makes a half-million per boatload. The boat does not have to make it, it just has to be filled.
It gets worse. The mob makes the refugees pay for their “life-jackets.” Most have a 1/2 “ piece of material that absorbs water, some are just filled with hay.
If you can’t afford one of these then you are excluded from a “flotation device.” Day’s like this is when the Turkish government and mob extort the refugees the most. When the risk of capsizing is higher the rates are cheaper. En couth, that means that the poor and the families will take most of the risk because it is all that they can afford. Even in life and death the Turkish government and mob weighs supply and demand over humanity. There is no UN, and the Greeks guarding the camps are paid. Next fall the UN will meet to figure out a plan for the refugees, but until then it’s up to the global citizens.