In-pictures - Greece: Three days of rescuing people

Fisrt blog by Caroline Haga, emergency communication delegate in Greece.

Day 1 – Have the traffickers run out of boats?

It’s 9am on a beautiful sunny day in November when I head towards the village of Eftalou in the northern part of the Greek island of Lesvos. I am driven to the waterfront at the outskirts of the village, but the car cannot take me any further. Here the pavement ends and the narrow road winds sharply up, and continues in tight twists and turns for the next 15 kilometres. This is where thousands of migrants arrive on barely seaworthy rubber boats each day.




Eventually I get a ride in one of the four-wheel drives belonging to a Dutch NGO also working on the shoreline among dozens of other organizations. All help is needed to cover this vast and hard to reach area as boats can land anywhere on the rocky shore. After a sharp turn, I spot the Hellenic Red Cross rescue team by the big red cross on their van. Caroline Haga /IFRC


When I make it down to where the six-man team is scanning the Turkish shoreline in the horizon, they seem surprised; the day has been very quiet just like the day before. So far they’ve ‘only’ seen five boats. To me it still seems like a lot as each boat carries 35-45 people, but apparently it’s nothing compared to the usual 30-60 boats a day. “It’s really strange because the weather has been perfect. It makes me worried about what might happen,” team leader Vasilis Hantzopoulos says. He tells me that they’ve even heard rumours that the traffickers have run out of boats for the moment. Caroline Haga /IFRC


The team is made up of professionally trained, unpaid search and rescue volunteers. They undergo an intensive 15 month course in rescue activities and first aid – even volunteering at hospitals – and have to pass a specific exam each year. Vasilis, 45, has been volunteering for 25 years, Ioanna Papadimitriou, 42, for 12 years, and the rest for around four years. Caroline Haga /IFRC


The team takes me up to their look-out spot high up in the hills and it doesn’t take long before they spot something orange close to the shore some five kilometres away. The orange and the black of the rubber vessel indicates that this is no fisherman’s boat but one full of migrants. “We wait here to try to pinpoint where it is heading. We never know because they always pick one of the migrants to steer the boat – who, of course. is not trained – and the currents are really strong.” Caroline Haga /IFRC

When the boat is quite close to the shore we race to where the team expects it to land. They jump out of the car and run along the beach. Vasilis and Pakos Panagiotis wear wetsuits and wade out on the slippery rocks to meet the boat and bring it safely ashore. The other team members and many helpers on the shore try to calm everyone and help them out one-by-one. Children are carried so that they don’t hurt themselves. Manolis Tzanakakis and Elitheria Akoumianaki walk among the arrivals to check if anyone is in need of first aid or other medical attention. This group have all arrived safely. I see huge smiles and happiness all around. They were lucky, just like all the other 15 or so boats that arrived during the afternoon. The next day the situation was completely different. Caroline Haga /IFRC