Three days of rescuing people

by Caroline Haga, IFRC emergency communication delegate in Greece.

Day 2 – Rough seas

My second day with the Hellenic Red Cross rescue team is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. When I arrive to the shoreline to meet them, they tell me that unlike the previous days the morning has been busy. Since 6 am when they began patrolling almost 20 boats in four hours. Each fairly small rubber boat is packed full - 35-45 people and their, albeit meagre, baggage.


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I spot one orange dot by the Turkish shore and proudly turn to tell the team of my keen observation skills. They solemnly inform me that there are at least four boats more on the way. Soon we are on our way to where they expect the first boat to land. As we reach the shore, I can see that today will be difficult because of the wind and high waves despite it being sunny. “The traffickers don’t care if there is bad weather or rough seas, they don’t care if there are babies on board or too many passengers,” Vasilis Hantzopoulos, the rescue team leader, says angrily.


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The passengers arrive to the shore soaking wet. Many are shaking either from cold or shock, probably both. I see Ioanna Papadimitriou from our team carrying one child after the other to safety over the slippery rocks. “My baby, my baby,” a frantic woman screams. Thankfully she soon finds her child being taken care of by a volunteer from one of the organizations on the shoreline. The Red Cross rescue team and other organizations go around wrapping wet children and those with symptoms of hypothermia in so called astro blankets to keep the body heat inside. Someone brings water, bananas and dry clothes for the children.


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The day passes in much the same way. By the third or fourth boat I cannot help myself, I have to start helping out. I do what I can which is take people’s hands and pull them further up the shore to dry land, and run around wrapping shaking people in astro blankets. I call for our rescue team if first aid is needed or for one of the volunteer doctors. Boats keep on arriving and we race from one place to the other up and down the 15 kilometre coast line. One boat arrives in a very difficult place from where you have to climb over rocks to get to the road. With a bunch of volunteers we quickly make a line to help the arrivals, children and elderly people in particular. Everyone says thank you, thank you. An old lady kisses me on the cheek.


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Vasilis and the rest of his six-man team meet yet another boat on the shore and begin helping people out. It’s clear that they have gone through a very scary journey. Everyone is completely drenched. Many cry hysterically. I need to constantly go and get more blankets because everyone needs them.

I see a young woman shaking uncontrollably with tears streaming down her face. Beside her, volunteers are taking care of her one week old daughter that she has been trying to shield during the journey. I hug and try to calm her. It is clear that she didn’t know how dangerous the journey would be and that she has been terrified for her daughters’ life. We sit there for some 10 minutes until the rescue team calls me as yet another boat is arriving. Another volunteer steps in to comfort her. I will never forget the look of both terror and gratitude on her face as we drive away.


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That night, when I finally fall asleep, I dream of rough seas.

La Fédération internationale des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge constitue, avec ses 190 Sociétés nationales membres, le plus vaste réseau humanitaire du monde. En tant que membres du Mouvement international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge, nous sommes guidés dans notre travail par sept Principes fondamentaux: humanité, impartialité, neutralité, indépendance, volontariat, unité et universalité.