Ι’m sitting on a bench facing the sea, so many thoughts, so many decisions I have to make. Let the wind take them all.
It’s another day among many I’ve spent here at the joint Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-Greenpeace observation point overlooking the most important landing point for the refugee rescue operations at sea in the northern part of Lesbos.
Located on a hill, we have great visibility. My role is to spot refugee boats and communicate with our rescue boats. You guide them to assist the refugees – people who are seeking to escape war and live a normal life like we do in Europe.
This is a journey that thousands of people make every day because staying in Syria means almost certain death. Their only chance of salvation is to leave, but here on Lesbos I’m thinking, is that journey actually safer?
The role that we take on here is not easy. You need your heart, your soul, your mind, your solidarity, your belief and your passion. You are here to save lives.
On this day my shift started at 11 am, but before we left the hotel the medical team had raced off to the nearby village of Petra, responding to an emergency with a child.
Later, at the observation point, I was still wondering what had happened with the child, but soon heard that a woman ‘also’ died … Also? What does ‘also’ mean?
And then I understood. They had confirmed that both the child and a woman had died. But what happened? You continue to wonder…
As the refugee boats arrive on shore you see how emotional the people are: some will cry, others pray and some sing and laugh – happy to be safe.
But that child and the woman didn’t make it, joining thousands of others who died trying to cross the sea. It’s because the boats are overcrowded, because they can’t swim, because they’re afraid of the sea, because the weather is bad, because the quality of the boats is bad, because the boats have engine problems or the life vests are of poor quality.
They take the risk to find a better world. They have hope and courage and they want to live. We can give them that opportunity – we can give them safe passage.
The most beautiful experience so far was a day when we spotted a boat almost 10 nautical miles away from our position. It was far away and we could only see a small shape moving slowly south.
We knew it wasn’t another rescue boat, so we told our rescue boats to check it out, but the boat was moving and the weather was hazy. After 10 minutes, we lost sight of them.
But we knew the boat was there and we waited, we waited a long time until finally, we heard the message: ‘confirmed refugee boat’.
It was the best feeling! Relief! Our boat team told us that everyone was happy and the boat was in good condition. It’s so nice when you hear really good news – it’s even better when you don’t expect anything.
But it’s never a routine day at the observation point. Every day is a challenge. You have to face life and death together with the refugee boats. You have to deal with new boats, new people and different weather conditions.
Our actions help us counter the fear and racism; your solidarity helps to unite humanity. Every experience is a life lesson. You want to stay until the end.
But when will governments turn away from greed and power? I also wait for when people will be able to live freely, with peace and love, when the war will be over.
No child deserves to suffer like this. No one should be forced to wait on a freezing beach, waiting for a call to the land or medical support in the middle of the night.
We are all humans and we have to treat everyone humanely. Let your heart speak. Let your heart help whoever is in need.
Mariadina Lilis started working on Lesbos with Greenpeace as a volunteer in December and is now employed by MSF as Greenpeace prepares to withdraw from joint operations.
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