By Peggy Gish
The waves crashed on the stony beach. Out in the water of the Aegean Sea, between the Island of Lesvos and the coast of Turkey, the lights of coast guard boats and an occasional fishing boat could be seen in the dark, moonless night. Two of our team joined members of the Emergency Rescue Centre International (ERCI) team as they started their nightly all-night vigil to watch for and assist with passengers in refugee boat if they arrive at this area of the island.
Night-vision binoculars were on hand. The orange tarp was lifted from the stack of blankets, for warmth or for sitting or lying on the pallets or the ground. Wooden pallets for seating had been set up around a mound of rocks, where the group would light a campfire during the colder months of the year. During the summer, dryer months there are regulations against open fires.
The rhythmic sound of the waves gave a backdrop for meditating, and we had plenty of time for getting to know each other. Though some did nap during the early hours of the morning, there were always several awake and alert to respond if a boat came. Other clusters of ERCI were holding similar watches at the same time, at a couple other locations where boats might arrive from Turkey
“I came on a boat to Lesvos, myself eighteen days ago,” Yusef*, a young refugee, now working with the ERCI team, told us, when we asked how he got involved in this work. “Now, I feel like the work I need to do is to help other refugees in the same situation,” he added. He, like all the refugees landing in Lesvos, went first to Moria,** the official registration center run by the Greek Military, to start his asylum process. And like others, he is waiting to find out if he will get asylum and can immigrate to another European country. If not, he will have to make the choice of either staying in Greece or returning to Turkey, where he last resided after leaving his home country .
As sun rose between the clouds in the morning we continued our watch. No boats came to our area of the coast tonight, yet these nightly vigils play an important role. I had time to take in the beauty around me and reflec
t on the risk that these thousands of refugees are taking to reach a place of safety. I also witnessed and participated in just one of the many ways volunteers on Lesvos, and other Greek islands and receiving countries, are working to prevent deaths and ease the trauma that refugees experience in this perilous part of their journeys.
*Not his real name
**(For more about Moria, see Ivars Balkit’s, 9 September, “Quick Visit to Moria ‘Hot Spot,’” in Christian Peacemaker Teams Europe Facebook page)