New arrivals with the dawn of a new day

The Hellenic Coast Guard (center) tows a dinghy into Skala port after picking up 20 refugees in tandem with Mo Chara (left) Sunday morning, May 13, 2018.

Crisp morning air accompanied the rising sun as we conducted training exercises with our search and rescue counterpart, Mo Chara. We were testing distances. 

1.5 nautical miles. 2 nautical miles. 2.5 nautical miles.

It was early on in our morning shift, and the crew wanted to train a bit before heading into port for the morning. The Hellenic Coast Guard sat undisturbed to our West near Molyvos. 

We wrapped up the training and asked if they wanted to do one more exercise, and they obliged. Around that time, radio chatter picked up and the HCG raced toward the East. Mo Chara sat as it tried to assess the situation before steaming East as well. 

A message came over the phone used to communicate with the coast guard, UNHCR, Mo Chara, landing team, and other actors assisting with landings. A possible dinghy was reported to the East of Tsonia, a small village on the Northeast shore of Lesvos, and more information would come. 

We immediately shifted our focus to the East and rapidly scanned for any sign of a dinghy. I used the binoculars to scan the horizon, and hoped that we could just catch a glimpse of the raft to help those en route find it faster. 

I saw the dinghy just over a ridge that obscured the coastline — bouncing with each wave as its engine had failed. We quickly told Mo Chara it sat on the 062 bearing, its compass direction, and they intercepted it. The HCG arrived soon after and loaded the refugees onto its ship, 20 in all —11 Syrians and 9 Iraqis. The dinghy held 4 women, 7 men, and 9 children.  

The landing prepared for the new arrivals in Skala’s port, ready to distribute water, cookies, and blankets. 

Parts of the cut-up dinghy sit next to two garbage bins just off of Lesvos' North shore.

Mo Chara and the HCG slowly made their way back to Skala port to transfer the refugees, dinghy in tow. Once the refugees disembarked, they were taken to Stage 2 to receive more water and a change of clothes before quickly boarding the bus to Moria.  

The entire process only took two hours. 

It was remarkable. We saw brand new refugees be intercepted, loaded onto the coast guard’s ship, and be welcomed into the port. Seeing the cohesiveness and cooperation of everyone involved was beautiful. It was surreal seeing it firsthand and oddly normal to be a part of it. 

The realization of a dinghy being in the water, the reality of human lives bobbing in the space between life and death, communicating effectively with capable humans that have a heart massive enough to help, and being one small grain of sand in a sand castle that is fortified by countless other actions and people who make this all work out somehow has become normal. I don't understand why.

I don't mean that in such a manner that brings glory to myself or the other volunteers here. I mean that as an allusion to how normal being on Lesvos and working with refugees has become for me and so many other people.

I wish it didn't feel normal — that would mean the crisis is over.