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Oriol Canals: "I cannot understand how we can do this to ourselves as a human race"

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Barberá Lledó Fernández. Journalist

Aylan Kurdi, the child found drowned in the tourist beach Ali Hoca Burnu in Turkey, who became the symbol of the plight of refugees and shocked the whole world, was also the turning point for the Catalan company lifeguards, Pro-Activa Serveis Aquàtics, decided to do their bit and give help to the refugees that arrive every day to the Greek island of Lesbos.

In early September, Óscar Camps and Gerard Canals travelled there for the first time to study the logistics of the place and do the reconnaissance work necessary to find out how the aid would be coordinated, where they might be located and what costs were involved to do this work. However, the flow of boats and the need for help was so great that, half hour after getting there, they were in the water rescuing people arriving in different boats.

They saw that there was that there was much work to do, above all, above all what they know best: pick up the people arriving on boats that fell into the sea and could not reach the coast. Since then, they cover between 15 and 17 kilometers from the northern coast of the island and help to an average of 20 to 25 boats per day, representing a flow of 1,000 to 1,500 people.

How is the work coordinated on the island?


Oscar Camps: The small organisations that are already there are coordinated in a curiously ad-hoc manner, there has been no overall coordination because they are small entities from different countries and each has chosen their own field of activity that was free and where they could help best.

Oriol Canals: Yes, we have been covering needs that we saw were missing. There are organisations that have doctors, others have nurses, others who help with blankets, dry clothes and food. We quickly saw that we fitted in where nobody was doing anything: in the water, in the first few meters of the sea and in the reception of ships trying to do it in the safest possible manner.

In the end, we are fitting in and finding a void where we see a need. Now everyone knows where the doctors are, where the lifeguards are, where the two camps are, where there are blankets and who has vans if a refugee needs to be transferred. That is, little by little, each have found our own place.

What is the protocol to be followed by refugees reaching Lesbos?


Gerard Canals: The first thing they have to do is get to the camp, which is where all the documentation is managed. But how to get there is the problem, but is why all the organisations are there, to make it easier for them to get there.

Oriol Canals: There are two small camps from where buses are chartered to Mytilene, the capital, which is about 60 kilometers away. When they arrive on the island, the first thing they have to do is go to one of those two camps and, though occasionally they may have to spend a night there, the idea is to come, and get dry clothes and medical care. From here, they have to go to larger camps that are on the outskirts of the capital. And it is there where they do all the paperwork needed for refugee status. In any case, we are at the point of arrival, and we tell them what to do next and what their next steps are, but we can't tell them how long it will take to obtain refugee status.

Gerard Canals: Also, in the end you also have to stop worrying a little. We already know that if they manage to set foot on solid ground, we have done our job. There is another person who looks after getting them to the camp in the best condition possible. You cannot expect to cover everything.

And it is for this reason that we work in teams of four for up to fifteen days on the island. All three of them consider that it is very important to take turns and return to their daily routine. The psychological burden is very hard.

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