The EU – Turkey agreement has not resulted in preventing the people fleeing to engage in the dangerous sea crossing towards Europe. On the contrary they leave at night and take longer patterns, with a higher risk of lives loss, due to shipwrecks and hypothermia. The past weeks have witnessed three to four deadly incidents off the Turkish coast adjacent to Lesvos, including one on 16 December, where Sea-Watch took part to the search and rescue action.
Already in the morning of the disaster of 16 December, Sea-Watch engaged in the most delicate operation of the mission in Lesvos. In cooperation with the Spanish life guards of Proactiva Open Arms, the SW crew rescued over fifty people from an overcrowded, sinking rubber boat, which has been found by the SW boat drifting and embarking water. The crew embarked twenty people, giving priority to children and women.
“We had at least twelve children and a pregnant woman on board”, says Ruby Hartbrich, medic from the SW crew. “The boat was already filled up with water, so that the people had to be urgently evacuated. There was even a newborn in a bag, no more than a week old”, reported Ruby.
Thanks to the presence of civilian rescue services, including Sea-Watch, everything went well and everybody has been brought safe on shore. However, already in the afternoon the situation turned into another tragedy. Off the beach of Eftalou, North of Lesvos, an overloaded wooden boat capsized and sank. In this case the SW crew found themselves searching for corpses among the floating personal belongings of the shipwrecked, in the vicinity of the sinking vessel.
“We went through a debris field of boat parts, luggage and lifejackets,” says Giorgia Linardi, legal adviser for Sea-Watch and Mission Coordinator in Lesvos. Giorgia, who is normally managing the operations from land, joined the crew for this difficult intervention. “83 people were rescued from the water, most of them were women and children. They were distraught when brought ashore, which made it not easy for the rescue teams including ourselves to remain calm, act professionally and not let the panic spread”. For some people the help came too late. Two deaths have been recovered; the others will be counted on the coast, once washed up by the currents in the next days.
In a regular day of work in Lesvos, Sea-Watch went from successfully saving lives in the morning to search for dead bodies in the afternoon. “No one should ever see a baby bottle still full of milk floating in the grey waves, a few meters away from a boat, sinking together with the hope of its innocent passengers”, says Giorgia.
“Disasters like this can be easily avoided, if Europe decides to commit in a serious response to the present crisis, by affording international protection to those fleeing violence and atrocities having our western society at their roots.