Meet Stratos, one of the local fishermen in the village of Skala Sikamineas on the island of Lesvos who is rescuing refugees trying to reach the island by making the dangerous journey from Turkey.
The sea has always been the the love of Stratos’ life. Hardly a day has passed without him being in the water. But since the refugee crisis intensified in May, the sea has given him problems sleeping.
“I have been so worried for the people taking the journey over the sea that I have been out with the boat all night long. Every night. Just in case. In May, when people started coming in much bigger numbers every day, we didn’t know what to do. Before the volunteers came it was a disaster. No medics, not enough clothes, no rescue teams, no coordination. Nothing. We are humans, we need to sleep.
“The locals did all they could, but with thousands of people arriving each day in late summer it was impossible to help them all. Before Tsipras was elected, the mission of the coast guard was to stop the boats, taking the motors or the oil to force the boats to go back to Turkey. But since the election, the coast guard’s job has been to safely bring people to land.
“There are too many people coming for us to handle by ourselves. The only solution is to stop the war. But people are still coming, and for me, the only alternative is to help them from the sea to safety. These people have started a journey to a better life. I will not let the sea stop them.
A date forever imprinted in Stratos memory is October 27, 2009.
It was early morning and dark at the lighthouse of Korakas. The wind, going north, was strong and the waves reaching high. Coming fast against the hard rocks was a boat carrying refugees, as people have always been fleeing to Lesvos. Stratos, together with his fishermen friends Yorgos and Dimitris, were the only ones there to help them.
“The rocks surrounding the lighthouse are the worst place to land on the whole island. The boat used a Suzuki motor of 250 CC and crashed hard and fast on the rocks. The refugees didn’t wear life jackets, and half of them were already unconscious.
Stratos jumped into the water, bringing child after child to Yorgos and Dimitris. Then he focused on getting the mothers to safety, and after that the fathers. Ten were saved from the water. Ten died. The ambulance came to pick up the dead bodies and after around two hours the Aegan sea was calm again.
About ten months later, a family showed up at the restaurant Stratos worked at in Skala Sikamineas. They were all crying and kissing him when he realized: they had come back to thank him for saving them from the water. The youngest one being saved from that family was only 9 months at the time of the rescue. Her journey, and life, had continued thanks to Stratos risking his own life to save them.
The survivors later put up a sign in his honour and as memorial for the drowned at the lighthouse in Korakas where Lighthouse Relief, a volunteer organization, have a nightshift team in place from evening to morning. The Lighthouse team is there to help arriving boats and alert rescue teams when there are emergencies.
Stratos continues to this day to give people in need a warm welcome, helping them finish their journey over the sea by bringing them safely to shore.