In 2015 the Greek island of Lesvos became one of the focal points of the refugee crisis. With over a million migrants attempting to cross the Aegean from Turkey to Lesvos, drownings were all too common.

Drowning in the Aegean

In 2015, over 1M migrants attempted to cross the narrow but dangerous stretch of water from Turkey to Greece. 3,771 people drowned during their attempt.*

Local rescue services were under-equipped and overwhelmed.

‘We wrote a new page in the chapter of mass rescue with unprecedented situations even for us,’ says Hellenic Rescue Team Secretary General, Konstantinos Mitragas. ‘2015 was the most difficult year that we have ever faced as a rescue team.  We lived absolute horror. There were many casualties, among them many children, which is the thing that affects you most.’

Hellenic Rescue Team crew approach a migrant boat full of people

Photo: Hellenic Rescue Team

A Hellenic Rescue Team crew go to the aid of a dangerously overloaded boat in the Aegean

RNLI partners in Lesvos

  • HRT website
    Hellenic Rescue Team
    Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT)

    The HRT is a search and rescue organisation whose volunteers respond to emergencies across Greece, from the mountains to the sea. In 2016, they received the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award for their tireless efforts to aid refugee arrivals in Greece.

    HRT website
  • IMRF website
    International Maritime Rescue Federation logo
    International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF)

    When the IMRF asked the RNLI to assist the HRT with equipment and training, we were pleased to help a fellow lifesaving organisation cope with a desperate situation.

    IMRF website

The view from Lesvos – HRT Crew Member Naomi Krauzig

Naomi Krauzig, Hellenic Rescue Team

Photo: RNLI/Jane Labous

‘I saw a refugee mother arriving with a 1-day‐old baby. She had given birth on the boat. It was something that stayed on my mind. So I came down to the marina and asked what the Hellenic Rescue Team was doing, and if I could join them.

‘When we get a call, in 30 minutes we must be on the sea. Usually we have a crucial time of 1 hour to find a person in the water. You don’t know if the person is in a boat, in the water, if they’re wearing a life jacket or not. So you have to plan how to find that person, and how to rescue them.’

The difference we’re making together

Our immediate response was to send essential lifesaving equipment to the HRT, which was distributed to stations across the Aegean. In 2016 we gave the Lesvos team two Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboats already earmarked for disposal. We then supported the volunteers with training and mentoring to use these lifeboats safely and effectively.

Hellenic rescue team training with the RNLI

RNLI/Aram Atkinson

Hellenic rescue team training with the RNLI

By early 2017, HRT Lesvos volunteers were ready to respond, day or night - and with a plan in place to sustain the branch, crew numbers were growing with local training in place to match.

The EU-Turkey refugee deal (March 2016) means that far fewer people are attempting the crossing to Greece today. But Lesvos now has a capable lifeboat service that can save anyone in danger around its coastline - whether they’re on a refugee dinghy, fishing vessel or tourist boat.

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3,771 refugees drowned in the Aegean in 2015

2 Atlantic 75 lifeboats in operation

21 crew members trained in 2017

29 launches in 2017