Australian Lifesaver Volunteering in Greece Watch as Refugees Drown

australian-lifesaverMelbourne lifesaver Simon Lewis traveled to Greek island of Lesbos to help refugees crossing the dangerous waters between Turkey and Greece. The Australian volunteer from St Kilda Surf Lifesaving Club in Melbourne was participating in a venture between Greek Lifeguards and the International Surf Lifesaving Association.

While volunteering on the island, Simon succeeded in helping 517 people over the course of 10 days. However, he was also forced to watch helplessly as 31 people drowned because they were located in international waters.

Upon his return to Australia the young man spoke about his experiences on the Greek island and the people he was able to save. He still remembers the look of relief on the refugees’ faces when they saw that help had arrived, but he also remembers watching helplessly as men and women drowned on the Turkish side of the border, where his team was not allowed to go.

“That’s the nature of lifesaving, we put ourselves in that situation to help prevent people from drowning and yet because it’s across the way in international water you’re restricted and can’t actually do anything about it,” Lewis said to Radio Australia.

One specific memory has been torturing him since then. A woman who threw her baby closer to the border in an attempt to help her child reach the safe zone. “We realized what she was about to do, you know, throw us the baby and so we had to pull away from her and put some distance between us. Just seeing her face, that heartbreak,” he said.

Volunteers and rescue workers are not allowed to help migrants and refugees located in international water for fear they may be accused of human trafficking.