30. Oktober 2015 · Kommentare deaktiviert für „I made an SOS call for the Aegean refugees. Now I’m lost for words“ · Kategorien: Alarm Phone, Griechenland, Mittelmeer · Tags: ,

Quelle: The Guardian

by Justine Swaab

When I first hear the news about the boat sinking in the Aegean sea on the radio, I think of the SOS call I made to the Turkish coastguard that afternoon about what might have been this very boat. I often call in the coordinates of such refugee boats in distress from my base in Amsterdam, so I can’t be sure. I am a volunteer for and the founder of Crossing Channels, an organisation that mediates between refugees, volunteers, aid workers and rescue teams. A record 242 lives were saved from the Lesbos wreckage. This should be cause for celebration. But between 40 and 60 lives are possibly lost. And I am lost for words.

Today the Aegean is rough with high waves. The volunteers working through online solidarity networks knew it would be a day full of distress calls. By disseminating translations of weather warnings into many languages they tried to warn refugees about the dangerous conditions, urging people not to attempt a passage today – but too often this information does not reach the people who need it most.

I find out about the shipwrecks through different mediums. This time I received information via Facebook: a screenshot of Google Maps with coordinates sent by an Arab contact. I ask the usual questions via today’s translator. Who is the contact on the boat? How many people? How many women and children? Are there any elderly or disabled? Sometimes it’s the family and friends of the refugees that sound the alarm themselves. They can hear the screams and the pleas of their loved ones fearing for their lives. Everyone tries to stay calm – we have to. So the language we use is almost military.

This time the number of people alarms me: 180 – more than the average of 50 people on a 15-person boat. I check with Alarmphone, an organisation that monitors the coastguards and pressures them into making quick rescues, to see whether they are already on the case. Then, after identifying which country’s waters the boat is in, I call the Turkish coastguard.

Often we cannot reach the guards: we are put through to answering machines or fax machines; are shouted at or hung up on. Sometimes I resort to calling my local Dutch coastguard and asking them to call their foreign colleagues.

This time I’m able to give the coordinates to someone who speaks English in one phone call. We ask the people on the boats lucky enough to have a phone and reception to call 112 so that they can be tracked by emergency services. But so often we hear of operators unable to communicate with the refugees. We are told they hang up on drowning people. After all these months, there are still no translators. I ask the Turkish guard to confirm that they will send a search-and-rescue team. “Of course,” he replies. But to me, that is not self-evident.

It might seem incomprehensible that refugees continue to board these unsafe vessels. But volunteers like me, who are in daily contact with migrants, know how they often run out of money and are unable to stay on dry land another day. They see no option but to board the boats with the smugglers, who sometimes force them at gunpoint. Refugees tell us that the coastguards sailing past can see thousands of them on the shore ready to leave but just move on. Some told me: “Their rescue boats sometimes vanish when the rubber boats appear.”

Later that night, when someone asks me whether I’ll be able to sleep, I say that, like most volunteers, I’m often too exhausted by the never-ending flood of urgencies not to.

More and more often I have to say no to people asking for my help. I tell them I wish I was a legion. Knowing they will probably not receive help from official organisations or NGOs, I choose the worst cases. I have to ask one question: “Is a life in danger?”

These days, when I turn off my phone to go to sleep, I wonder who will watch over the boats. I fear people will die. Why is it us who try to guard these waters, as well as these lands? Why it is me that agonises over whether I handled the case right, retracing my steps in my head? Whose responsibility is all of this really?

Later I see the details of the shipwreck all over the news. There are pictures of a baby boy from the boat whom the paramedics are trying to revive; a little boy and girl are being given CPR. They remind me of my niece and nephew. I spoke too soon when I said I’d be able to sleep.

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