Life not Death, by Efi Latsoudi

29th of August 2014
We received the information that there is a rescue operation in Nees Kydonies Lesvou. A 38-year-old woman has gone missing. Strong winds in the area. The coast guard boats are not sailing only a helicopter flies for a while over the area.

At noon 25 Afghan refugees arrived at PIKPA. Two dingy boats had arrived early that morning. Strong winds and waves can’t stop smugglers but also can’t stop the need of people escaping war. Among the survivors of the first boat there is a five year old girl with her uncle. Her mother is missing. The child is resting in PIKPA. PIKPA is overcrowded again. More than 150 people arrived yesterday. No available beds and the families taking care of the girl give her their own beds. We inform the Doctors of the world in Moria detention camp about the tragic incident as well as Red Cross International. The child has a sister and her father in Belgium and they talk on the phone when the child is transferred in Moria to be examined and supported by the doctors.

Unfortunately Doctors of the World are not allowed (the main office forbids them from doing so) to offer support in PIKPA open reception camp. They insist on operating only the detention camp of Moria. The doctors confirm that the child knows very well that the mother is missing. She heard her screaming her name twice and after that couldn’t hear her any more. As time passes we make sure that the girl would not be detained in Moria (as it is the case for many shipwreck victims) and that police will transfer her back to PIKPA In PIKPA we are all shocked. The survivors are describing that the boat with 13 people capsized 30 minutes after they had left Aivalik coast. It was shortly after midnight and the uncle of the child together with another man tried to save the child. The woman was taken very quickly by the waves. Some men who could swim managed to turn the boat and 12 of them were back in the small dingy boat. Strong waves led them to Nees Kydonies Lesvou after many hours. When the coast guard took them out of the sea they declared the missing woman. Faces were dark in PIKPA we have experienced these tragedies before. We all feel exhausted by sorrow. Late that afternoon we get unexpected news. A woman was found walking alone in the area near Xambelia. She was taken to the hospital where our translator immediately goes to see her. The woman in under a strong shock. She is convinced that her child and son in-law are dead in the sea. She was fighting with the waves 18 hours. She was wearing a bad quality life vest that at some point became very heavy. She didn’t know how to swim and she was scared by the sea. Once in the coast of Lesvos she finds an orange life jacket and she believes that this was her daughters life jacket and starts screaming in despair. She managed to arrive bear foot to the nearest houses. When the interpreter very carefully announced her that the child is alive and waiting for her outside she refused to believe him. It took long time and calm discussion with the interpreter to overcome the shock and be able to meet her child. The moment of the meeting is something that nobody can describe. A real life present. Mytilini Hospital really supported the woman. Together with the interpreter (it sounds very normal but interpretation in Greek Hospitals for refugees is another big gap) the doctors did all the tests and decided to keep her for one day to be sure that she will overcome the shock physically and psychologically. The child and the brother in law went back to PIKPA where the woman will be transferred to today. In PIKPA she will recover and get all the information and support about the family reunification procedure as her husband and eldest daughter are in Belgium. We asked UNHCR to insist in this case , on the 6 months protection from deportation order that is offered to the victims of shipwrecks. We also demanded the survivors of the shipwrecks not to be detained in Moria detention place. We experienced a real miracle of life this time after so many deaths. But we scream that the life of refugees should not depend on miracles. A woman who flees war with her little child having a family in Belgium should never risk her life in the sea. We need to change this lethal border regime immediately. Our cost is a coast of life and not a cost of death.

Efi Latsoudi
member of “The village of all together”-Lesvos