As the rhetoric within Europe takes a turn towards criminalizing NGOs, rescue teams on the ground, in Lesvos and elsewhere, are facing harsher interference that puts a strain on their life-saving operations. Refugee Rescue has been operating on Lesvos since 2015, always cooperating with other NGOs, rescue organisations, and the Hellenic Coast Guard.
During the past months, the Hellenic Coast Guard and local authorities have made operations increasingly difficult for Refugee Rescue and their SAR boat, “Mo Chara”. This has now reached a point where lives may be at risk.
The Hellenic Coast Guard has threatened fines should Refugee Rescue fail to give 24 hours notice before launching a rescue mission. A 24H report requirement is unworkable, since a refugee boat may appear at any given moment. This has prevented Refugee Rescue performing immediate rescues and has greatly constricted their operation.
Crew on land have been met with threats and demands to leave their posts. These posts are vital for spotting any incoming boats. In one incident, Refugee Rescue volunteers were threatened with a firearm. Previous threats were less brutal, although all threats are a challenge to diplomacy on the island.
After a long period of diplomatic difficulties with the Hellenic Coast Guard, the land crew has now been forced to leave their positions. This is despite compliance and successful collaboration in the past.
The safety of the Refugee Rescue crew has been compromised to such an extent that rescue missions are in danger. These arbitrary conditions, imposed by national and EU-authorities, ultimately put the lives of refugees at risk.
Refugee Rescue is present in Lesvos because refugees keep coming in. The crossing in unsafe and unseaworthy, overloaded vessels can be swamped with water, gasoline, or both. The people who arrive on these boats are heavily traumatized, physically injured, and are often in shock when they reach the shore.
Refugee Rescue is a professional SAR team with the ability to provide medical aid. There is no doubt that NGOs are needed, as, to date, they have saved thousands of lives. Governmental rescue-institutions and most of the larger help-organisations have left Lesvos, which leaves refugees under perilous and life-threatening circumstances.
Refugee Rescue is here to help and ready to cooperate. By remaining in Lesvos, we help ensure compliance with international Search And Rescue standards, as well as international human rights.
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