Every evening for the past three years, our volunteers have hiked up the cliffs at cape Korakas, a rocky headland on the north coast of Lesvos topped by the lighthouse which gives us our name. Night after night, no matter the weather, our spotters keep watch over this dangerous spot, upholding the commitment we made in 2015 to ensure the safety of new arrivals.
On stormy nights, or at times when the visibility is poor, the crossing can be particularly treacherous. Three of our current volunteers have shared their experiences of landings at Korakas, and the apprehension and relief that they bring.
Last week, with temperatures dipping close to zero, a dinghy with 35 people on board made a dangerous landing. As the boat came into view around the headland, the Lighthouse team made their way down the rocks to assist. Merri, a returning volunteer, was one of them.
“We were spotting from Korakas, as volunteers do every night. Seeing an official boat shining a bright light, I scanned carefully to see if there was a dinghy nearby.
There it was — so close it looked to have been hugging the coastline as it came round the corner, where visibility is impaired.
I felt lucky to have looked in the right direction, but it was actually down to training, which teaches us to pay attention to vessels and their behaviour.
I could clearly see the dinghy, the people on it. It was so close. The area around Korakas is so rocky and dangerous. We had very little time to get down to the beach to make sure people were safe.
The boat stopped on the beach, we helped people ashore, trying to keep them as dry as possible — they were already so cold from their journey across the sea.
Then it was a rush of giving out blankets, food and water. Soon, others from our team arrived with more blankets and food. The next part of the journey began, with people transported in groups to Stage 2 transit camp, where more volunteers waited with dry clothes and hot tea.
One of my most vivid memories is of a woman turning to me and asking me where she was. I told her she was in Greece, on an island called Lesvos. She stood there, shivering with cold, in the abandoned, crumbling lighthouse building, wearing an expression of indescribable relief and happiness.”
Karla, a Lighthouse team leader, describes the early stages of a similar landing that took place at Korakas a week before, in the early hours of the morning.
“As day broke, a team member calmly called me over to the telescope saying she could see something small. I looked through the telescope expecting to see a fishing boat. Instead, I saw a dinghy heading towards the lighthouse. Not only was this the first time I experienced a landing at Korakas, but it was my first night as team leader, a role I do not take lightly.
In the space of a minute, my team were on their way down to assist. There was no time to spare. We exchanged one look, a look that said ‘let’s go’; let’s make sure everyone lands safely, let’s do our job and let’s do it well. Most importantly, this look was reassuring and encouraging: you’ve got this.
As I continued to scan the sea for other boats, I kept an eye on the scene below. I saw people jump from a moving dinghy into waist high icy water, stumbling onto the beach in both relief and disbelief at the journey they’d just experienced. I saw my team ready to assist; calming everyone down and getting them warm.
Landings such as this one rely heavily on mutual trust. I trusted that my team had control of the situation and were doing an amazing job prioritising everyone’s safety. In turn, with no way to communicate with me, they trusted that landing teams were en route to provide further assistance. They trusted that I was surveying the landing while scanning the sea for more possible arrivals.”
One of the the volunteers hurrying down the hill to assist the new arrivals was Finn.
“The dinghy hit the beach at full speed. Amidst screams and crying, babies and infants were passed to us whilst everybody clambered out desperately to the safety of the beach. Saturated by the waves and freezing in icy temperatures, they shivered uncontrollably. We applied emergency blankets to children and those who seemed to need them most before making our way up to the shelter of the lighthouse, where we tended to the others. As people settled and started to warm up, the relief of making it across become overwhelming.”