On February 21st, following the increase in refugee arrivals on the island, Kathimerini, one of the most important newspapers in Greece, published an article telling the story and mentioning Shanti refugees and talking about our work as the organization helping out the locals on the island. You may find a link to the original article below, as well as an English translation:
“I fear that I might go out into the night and there won’t be a moon for shining light. I fear I might hit someone with the boat’s engine.”. He had already gone 24 hours without sleep rescuing tens of people when we spoke last Wednesday night. The 30 year old port authority was getting ready to patrol the narrow passageway between Kastellorizo and the Turkish coast, as he said, from the still air the sea looked like a mirror for yet another night. However, he wasn’t expecting that by daybreak he would have rescued more than 300 people from the water and the rocks- a greater number than any other previous time. From this unseen side, the Turkish coast is so close - there are just 2.2 kilometers to the bordering island - that some refugees attempt to swim across. Over the past five months more than 6000 refugees reached the island which has just 250 permanent residents. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, most arrivals were recorded for the month of November when 1662 people arrived at the island while in January of 2015 there were no more than 15. From the February data it seems that a new record of arrivals will be reported, causing port authorities to worry that the traffickers are discovering new routes and departure points. Moreover, as has been known, NATO patrols will not arrive at the bordering island. Under normal circumstances, the doctor Ioannis Rantos wouldn't be in Kastellorizo today. The length of his rural placement was completed last November but he asked for an extension. His placement for a specialization in general surgery opened up three times at the Attica Hospital, now he doesn't know where he will be placed. “I felt as though I couldn't leave from Kastellorizo when the refugee crisis was growing. I couldn't create a vacancy”, he told me in our phone conversation. In Kastellorizo, another doctor is also doing his placement, the Syrian native Basar Mousa, who often takes on the role of interpreter. Mister Rantos sleeps in the building which houses the island’s medical centre. Since last October the port authorities have been knocking on his first aid door asking for help. Often enough, refugee families sleep at the medical centre. He recalls that during one of the more difficult periods, 27 people had spent the night at the centre. The next morning they helped him clean the area so he could welcome patients. “Refugees arrive, you bond with them, they leave and then you have to start again from zero to build a human relationship with the new arrivals,” says the 26 year old doctor. “You can’t remove the war from your mind. Every moment the image of the people arriving here reminds you of it”.
The staffing of the island makes it difficult to manage the flows of refugees. The port authority station has no more than ten employees, whereas at least double the manpower is required. There is not even a cell available in case a trafficker is arrested. In one week, two port authorities in one inflatable boat rescued over 100 refugees. The often also seek the help of fishermen. Their breaks are few and the fatigue accumulates. Problems also arise with the police on the island. Usually, every week two members of the UN High Commission for Refugees comes to Kastellorizo from Rhodes to assist in the management and updating of newcomers. After daybreak on, Thursday more than 600 refugees and immigrants remained on the island until they could be recorded. Amongst them were women and children. Twice a week there is a coastal transit with Rhodes and from there the refugees go to Piraeus. Some sleep in rented rooms until their planned departure. However, there often aren't enough houses available for everyone. Recently, the municipality granted the cultural association hall of the to accommodate refugees. Since October, under the guidance of the UN High Commission, the volunteer group “Shanti Refugees” helps local authorities in the management of refugees. That same month they provided 3000 rations. So far they have collected about 90,000 euros in donations from England, the USA, France and other countries. Currently they have two volunteers on the island, a Greek and an Italian. Through their donations they have strengthened the coast with life jackets and flashlights for night rescues. They offer clothes, shoes and mattresses for the refugees. Moreover, at the expense of this volunteer organization, the island is expecting in the coming days, a special fridge is designed to refrigerate corpses that are retrieved from the sea.
The majority of refugees and immigrants disembark on the islands of Ro and Strongilli. In some cases, from the testimonials of survivors the traffickers lead the boats for a few meters and then dive into the water to return to the Turkish coast by swimming. During the night of February 17th, the inflatable boat of the port authority was sailing with its engine and lights switched off near Ro, waiting for the traffickers to make a move. “We saw him making them disembark on the island and then try to return to Turkey. He passed ten meters in front of us and we managed to stop him”, says the “K” port authority who spoke anonymously. Mr Rantos had also asked to board the port authority’s boat when pregnant women were found on islets. Due to the morphology of Kastellorizo rescue operations are usually carried out with great difficulty. The inflatable boats of the refugees tear as soon as they touch the rocks and the port authority’s boat has to approach the shore within a few centimetres for them to board. Last December the rural doctor had brought to the island some friends of his from university to help him with demanding work. “At times you feel completely drained from fatigue,” he says, “This situation sucks all the energy out of you”.