“After a quiet period on the Island, during which we got our heads down in preparation for what we knew was coming; the inevitable has occurred and boats have started arriving, en mass, on the shore of southern Lesvos again.
This picture was taken at about 7am, after a nightmare of a night. And when I say nightmare, I mean a night that will surely be haunting my sleep for years to come. I will share what happened that night with you guys at some point, but first I need to get my own head around what happened, what I experienced, what I saw.
Anyway, this picture.
We had been sitting at the lookout point, the cliff known as Katia, when we noticed a small wooden fishing boat rapidly approaching an extremely dangerous area at the foot of the cliff.
Our team raced along the coast to meet it as fast as we could, jumped out of the car and started running down the rocky path towards where the boat had been heading…but somehow we had lost sight of it. The refugees in that boat were approaching the rocks, alone….
I left the team there to continue searching and jumped back in the car on my own, deciding to drive round to the other side of the cliff and see if I could approach the same area from the opposite direction, to ensure we covered any possible eventualities.
I abandoned the car once it had taken me as far as it could, and started running. I ran for a good 10 minutes, back along the waterfront, my heart exploding in my chest. I was exhausted but the adrenaline kept me going.
In the distance I could see the boat again. My team had found it and were already in the water attempting to take control of the situation, helping people off as calmly as possible, whilst also tending to the needs of the people once off, freezing cold, soaking wet, and often traumatised. As I got closer I estimated about 40 people, many of them young families.
I had a few emergency blankets on me, but not enough, so I proceeded to wrap them around the smallest children first, having to prioritise.
Once everyone was safely on dry land and ready for it, we began to lead the way along the base of the cliff for the long walk back to the road. It was rocky and difficult and many people were struggling either with children, with injuries, or just putting one foot in front of the other on solid ground after the traumatic crossing.
This little boy was handed to me by his mother as she was struggling with her two other children and a few heavy bags. I had already slid the emergency blanket under his clothes, against his skin, pulled it up and tied it to form a little hood around his head for warmth.
He giggled as we walked and enjoyed a biscuit given to him by the other volunteers who had now joined us. By the time we got to the road and I handed him back to his Mamma, we were friends, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek, leaving me covered in crumbs.
I am so grateful for my team. We were the first on the scene and dealt with the situation in a controlled and compassionate manner. The people on this boat arrived to Europe happy, calm, and most importantly safe.
This picture was taken by a photographer called Cesar Lopez Balan. I’m having a little trouble seeing the pain in my face. I hardly recognised myself, but I wanted to mention that way Carlos conducts himself photographing what is happening right on the front line. He actually helps out, always ensures he puts the people first and still takes wonderful, emotional photos. I wanted to mention this as not many photographers conduct themselves in this way, so thank you.