On the 2 June 2015 HRT Secretary General Konstantinos Mitragas provided a presentation at the IMRF’s World Maritime Rescue Congress in Bremerhaven, Germany. It was about the challenge faced by their volunteers who were being confronted daily by thousands of migrants risking their lives to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.
Konstantinos asked the IMRF members if they could help, and our members responded, with equipment, boats, volunteers, training and most importantly with a recognition of the scale of this humanitarian crisis.
12 months later and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, commonly known as the UN Refugee Agency) are recognising the incredible commitment and effort made by HRT by awarding the Greek volunteer rescue organisation with the prestigious NANSEN Refugee Award.
They were recognised alongside Efi Latsoudi who was one of the founders of the PIKPA village which has helped over 30000 refugees over the past four years on Lesvos.
The NANSEN Refugee Award is offered annually to people, or organisations, around the world that offer their services for the relief and rehabilitation of refugees, with the aim of attracting interest to the refugee issue and to support and promote international assistance and cooperation.
As the UNHCR reports, candidates need not be famous, it is all about dedicated and inspired individuals, groups or institutions that support and assist refugees in whatever way they can. Meaning that it is not so much the size of the aid, or the number of refugees affected, but the originality, ingenuity and dedication that the individual, group or institution shows.
The UNHCR chose the Hellenic Rescue Team for ‘their unrelenting efforts to save refugees in distress at sea’. In 2014-2015 on Lesvos, Samos and Kos members of HRT participated in more than 1100 rescue operations saving almost 2,500 people and bringing another 7,000 to the safety of the shore.
Konstantinos reflected that ‘We wrote a new page in the chapter of mass rescue with unprecedented situations even for us. Overnight we had to rescue 70 people on board a plastic boat who were not wearing any life jackets’.
As well as a new page being written in the HRT book, IMRF NGO members from Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom and Germany wrote a chapter on international cooperation and collaboration for the IMRF.
These organisations worked together through the IMRF to help the HRT develop their maritime rescue response. Rescue boats and equipment have been donated, training of local volunteers has been provided and, during the peak of the migrant flows, boats and crew from Germany, Norway and Sweden joined the Greek rescue fleet helping save more lives.
All of this support was invaluable but without the dedication and commitment of the HRT team it may not have happened and they are now being deservedly recognised by the UNHCR.
Photo Top: Joint UNHCR 2016 Nansen Award winners Efi Latsoudi and Konstantinos Mitragas stand on the shore of the Greek island of Lesvos in this June 2016 file photo. © UNHCR/Gordon Welters