Volunteer Spotlight – Harbour

Friday, 12 February 2016

David with a group of refugees in the harbour at Molyvos.

Volunteer Spotlight: 

Starfish prides itself on having a great team of volunteers to help us carry out our duties and we thought it was time you met some of them and found out more about the work that we do. As Starfish Harbor Manager, long-term volunteer, David Ang, who used to work in security and crowd control, plays a key role in the orchestration of boat arrivals. We sat down with him and asked him about his experiences of working on the island as an integral part of the Starfish team.

Can you describe a typical day working in the harbour for Starfish?

Being the main group coordinating aid and assistance for refugees brought to both the harbours in Molyvos and Petra carries with it a great deal of responsibility. The Starfish Foundation harbour crews play a key role in the humanitarian system in this area of Lesbos because we are the first to be alerted by the authorities when refugees are rescued from the waters off the north coast.

We have crews either waiting at the Molyvos Harbour or on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In coordination with the IRC and the UNHCR, we also ensure that refugees that come into our care get connected with free transport either to the nearby Apanemo transit camp or the Greek government’s refugee registration centre near Moria.

Working at the harbours can be very challenging. This is especially the case when our crews have to help receive and offer assistance to multiple boatloads of refugees within a very short time frame. At the same time, working here is also very rewarding. We get to work in close partnership with the medics of SCM, a number of NGOs, volunteer groups, government agencies and the UN Refugee Agency often in very kinetic, high-energy situations

What has been your most memorable moment during your time here as harbour manager?

Just a few days ago, while working with a new boat arrival I asked them if they were all from Syria, to which one boy responded “No, I’m from Palestine.”

This interested me as I had spent time in Gaza while I was conducting research for my thesis. I explained to him what I had been doing and it turned out that he was related to the people that I had lived with and gotten to know there. What a small world!

Some of the search and rescue teams that help bring in refugees safely to the harbour into the care of Starfish.

What is the most challenging part of your role as harbour manager?

Probably dealing with multiple boat arrivals at once and trying to keep the registrations separate for the different groups. We always aim to work as quickly and calmly as possible while providing the best level of humanitarian care that we can. Also managing relations between all the different groups working in the harbour, namely, the coastguard, other NGOs, medics, businesses, and in particular the neighbourhood cats who routinely complicate our operations!!!!! 

What have been some of the highs and lows of the job of harbour manager for you?

Receiving, coming alongside and providing vital assistance to refugees during their first few minutes on European soil means that we share with them a huge range of emotions and experiences. No two boat loads are the same. We are with them during wonderful moments of intense happiness and relief at having arrived safely after being rescued at sea. However, very, very sadly, we are also there during their darkest moments, moments of acute medical distress, discomfort and tragedy.

Several weeks ago I was with a Syrian family on the pier at the very moment they were informed by medics that their 3 year old son (who was taken by a smaller rescue vessel to another town along the coast) did not survive his voyage. The collective explosion of grief, shock and horror that followed was something I will never ever forget. With another volunteer I had to provide comfort to the grieving parents who were beyond consolation and I also had to drive them to the hospital in Mytilini to reunite them with the body of their son.

But there are also amazing stories of friendship, joy and laughter here amongst the volunteers and also amongst the refugees. Many of the new arrivals we have met here have become our friends and have stayed in close touch with us throughout their journeys through Europe. It’s been such a privilege to get to know them and to work here alongside so many amazing people from all over the world, all pulling together for such an amazing cause.

Refugees walking the short distance to the bus to continue their onward journey with the backdrop of Molyvos castle.

Any words of wisdom for new volunteers?

We need to understand that we are some of the first people the refugees will meet here in Europe. You are probably one of the first people who have wanted to help them in goodness knows how long. We have to make these moments count. While our top priority is to provide the new arrivals the best quality of humanitarian care and assistance possible, we also work hard to help minimise the overall impact of this crisis on our local neighbours in the harbour. We fully understand the difficulties they having been facing so we do our very best to keep harbour crew operations as tidy and orderly as possible.

Thanks so much, David, for this interesting account of your work with Starfish. We hope that our readers have found it illuminating. In the coming weeks, we will introduce other core team members responsible for different sections of Starfish. In the meantime, Starfish wishes you good evening from a very windy, chilly Molyvos!