Powerful testimony from Eric Kempson about the extent of suffering in Lesvos, what exactly the aid agencies are not doing with the donations they have collected from the public on the back of the Lesvos Refugee Crisis, and testimony about abuses of refugee boats by the Turkish coastguard. Anyone who gives a damn about humanity should read this.
Eric Kempson’s speech follows showing of Channel 4 Film…
Since that film was made 3 months ago, since then on the island we have had 250,000 people. That film was quite powerful at the time, Channel 4 done that… you know, we are helping because we are human beings. This is not about anything else. Human beings should help human beings.
Over the last nine months, we have been through a lot, there’s a lot of harrowing stories from everyone working over there, and I recognise a few people in the audience who have been over and they know exactly what I’m talking about. What I am going to do is, I’m going to take you back one week and tell you what’s happened….
On Tuesday morning last week, (27 October), we had an old metal ferry coming across and it grounded about 30 metres out, and the sea wasn’t that bad, it was rough, but not that rough. But on this ferry was 250 people, women children, babies. So, you know, every day we are making decisions as volunteers out there, so we got an old boat that came in, put a rope on it, one of us went out, attached the rope to the ferry and we were passing people down off the ferry onto the boat, ten at a time, and getting them back to shore. We got everyone back, they took the ferry down into another harbour, which promptly sunk. If the ferry had sunk out at sea we would have lost alot more people.
Tuesday night, we lost one person on the cliff face, four boats came in, this was a bit tragic, because when we went down there, I was called by Spanish lifeguards, we have a team of Spanish lifeguards out there, they are doing a fantastic job, and they called me and said there’s a big panic going on, we got one boat in at a time, when I got there, they were bringing the last person off the boat, about 9 kilometres down the dirt track, when we got this old lady up, we had to carry her up a cliff face, 30-40 metres, we sat her on the top of the cliff, and as we sat her, I could hear voices screaming, people shouting, help, help. And there was more boats coming in, another three came in, in the exact position, which is very strange, so I climb down the rope and everything and there were three guys down there flashing boats in, on the rocks, so they could pinch the petrol. And that day, there were 120 boats came in, 6,000 people, that was Tuesday.
Wednesday morning (28 October) was one of the worst days we have had. It started off, a boat came in at the lighthouse, one side of Molyvos, and the boat crashed into the rocks about 50 metres out, and the sea was rough, very rough. One of us went out to the rock and put a rope on it and we managed to throw it out a few metres and they tied it on the end of the boat and the boat, when it came in, it hit the rock and went sideways, and everyone was inside the boat, and people sitting on the side of the boat, and the engine was still running. Anyway, we got the volunteers in a line, 15 metres out and we brought everyone in, and halfway through bringing them in, the boat caught fire. Lucky enough, it was just diesel, black smoke, it was bad enough but it panicked a lot of people, but we got everyone in. That morning, one of the volunteers, had a two year old die in his arms, a five year old girl, we didn’t have enough oxygen. Anyway, during the day, we had a lot of boats coming in, and sure enough, at 3.30 pm we had another major call, someone said another boat had gone down, a big wooden boat, I went up on the cliff face, just to check, and they said it went down so quick, one minute it was there, the next minute it wasn’t. I’m looking out over 2.5 kilometres with binoculars, there was just red life jackets everywhere. So we called the coastguard and at the time we are calling the coastguard, we got a Norwegian Frontex boat, a beautiful boat, and every time it passed and we managed to signal with an old emergency blanket, they clocked me on the cliff face, and I put them out, and they turned and went straight out, a bit further out and they are still going in the wrong direction, and I looked back and can see they are looking at me with binoculars, on the boat, well on the people the boat wasn’t there. After that the Spanish lifeguards went out on their jet skis lucky enough, fishing boats went in to the area, the Greek coastguard, these guys are working 12 hour shifts, and they have been doing it for nine months, I’ve seen them bringing so many people that had sunk, it’s unbelievable, you know, if there’s any heroes, those guys are. Anyway later that evening, 6 pm, there was a call for every medic to get themselves to Molyvos Harbour, we got a lot of doctors from all round the world with big hearts and out there helping us for nothing, they’re just volunteers. And they all went down the harbour, when I got there it was insanity, absolutely insanity, fishing boats were coming in, bringing people in, coastguard was coming in, bringing people in, and they were laid out on the harbour, and there was doctors pumping people, and at one stage there, I was stood amongst four groups of doctors around me. At the time I was getting clothes off the wet men, you know most of the other volunteers are women, so, you know, being a man, I have to go and help them get into dry clothes and get some towels. I looked round and there’s four lots of doctors around me, pumping small babies, I wouldn’t say any of them were over 18 months, out of the four, only one made it.
A boat filled with migrants sinks off Lesbos in late October. (AFP/Aris Messinis)
Anyway, later on, I went over to Petra Harbour, there’s another boat came in rescuing people from the same wooden boat. I met a doctor, a Syrian doctor, in the harbour, I took a load of emergency blankets over there, for the people coming of the fishing boats, and he said he was on the boat, he said, the top deck collapsed onto the bottom deck, with all these people underneath, and it went down in 60 seconds. Anyway, that was Wednesday, we had approximately 80 boats came in that day as well, 4000 people.
So, Thursday, (29 October) 15 confirmed dead from the boat the day before, we had eight boats sunk on Thursday out at sea. And the coastguard rescued everyone and the Spanish lifeguards were out there rescuing people as well but we got everyone in Thursday. We had approximately 60 boats Thursday. 3,000 people. This area we are looking after is 15 kilometres, the refugees come in over an 85 km stretch and the only beach that is looked after is our 15 kilometres, you know we don’t have the manpower to look after everything, we are hoping to take in another 10 kilometres this winter at the bad end where we lost a lot of people. With the help of Positive Action in Housing they promised me 200 people will come in.
A drowned child lies on a Lesbos beach. (AFP / Aris Messinis)
Friday, (30 October), 28 bodies washed up on Petra beach, women, children, men, one body at the Lighthouse on Molyvos, one body on my beach, 60 boats, 3,000 people came in on Friday. These 28 bodies, they say was from the wooden boat, I don’t think so, this is a separate incident, these, because of the tides and the currents I’ve lived there 16 years, and if this is Lesvos then the boat went down here about 2.5 KM out and the current runs out towards Thessaloniki, the bodies were found round here, on another beach, so they went out with that current, and come in with another current, I can’t see that, and the bodies they found weren’t damaged at all.
On Saturday (31 October) we only had 15 boats on Saturday, there was the Turkish elections. Four boats sank, we rescued every one – of the four boats – what we do is as well when the boats come in is we grab the boats and we turn it, we jump on it if the boat’s sinking, we go out and rescue them. Saturday morning, 8 bodies washed up on my beach, four children, four adults.
Sunday, (1 October) we had 40 boats, I was travelling so I have no other information yet, I haven’t spoken to Philippa about Sunday at all. My wife is over there dealing with it, and all the volunteers. Yesterday, I spoke to Philippa, and she had 50 boats in by 1.30 pm lunchtime, they were expecting a big day yesterday, and I haven’t spoken to her since then, except a message that came through, they had three children washed up on the beach.
Okay, we ran the situation for five months, just me, my wife, and my daughter. Now, we have another 160 volunteers from Norway, England, Scotland, Denmark, Netherlands, from all over. They’re coming from all over, a lot of doctors, a lot of professional people are coming and we try and run as one team, it’s very difficult because you know we had people coming from one week and they go, and we have a lot of people coming with big egos, and they want to run the situation. Anyway, we get there, we get around some of the problems and we carry on. A strange thing happened to me on the 20th October, I was out on the dirt tracks, now the dirt tracks and they’re horrible places, on the cliff faces. I’m out on these dirt tracks, two ambulances come across the top there, and I was thinking I’ve never see an ambulance out there, they’re not the best of tracks to ride on any of them, and as they come flying past, it said Glasgow Cares across the side of them. Anyway, I jumped in the car and chased them down and I said, “What the hell are you doing here?” they were a group of lads and they bought these ambulances to bring across to give to us. I couldn’t take one myself, they did offer them because of the laws in Greece, but I advised them to give them to the local Hospital or the capital city, give it to the Mayor, and they will get over all the red tape.
In the North, we feed everyone, the UNHCR and any aid agencies don’t feed them, we feed them. We get donations from all round the world. Melinda runs the Molyvos Refugee Society which is all ex-pats and volunteers, and she is just a little NGO, and people give her money and she buys the food. People put money into the local shop for me and I get biscuits, Pampers and anything else I need. But there’s no aid agencies up there. The UNHCR came in about a month ago and stuck a tent on a bit of land we managed to get from a really nice guy, so we could put some tents up and put people in for a night until they get the buses up from Mytilene and one time we didn’t have any buses, everyone had to walk 65KM and all through the summer and by the thousands and thousands, women, children walking in 40 degrees heat. It looked like something out of World War 2. Unbelievable. And UNHCR was there all the time, they’ve got an office there, and they were watching these people suffer, day in, day out, and done nothing. At one stage there, I went to clean the toilets in Karatepe, 65 KM from my house, Doctors Without Borders have this half of Karatepe site, the site is split into two, and the other half is run by International Rescue, David Milliband’s group. But I was cleaning Doctors Without Borders Half because they’re there, they took over the site, they said they’re going to run it, they publicised it, they asked for donations but they can’t clean the toilets for two months. And I got a team of people in, one lady from New York, a lawyer, a couple of nice people from England came, and we got a few volunteers amongst the refugees come and giving us a hand, you know it wasn’t the nicest job in the world, but we had two months of excrement to clean up, stuck on the walls, and everything and flies, the smell was just unbelievable. Anyway, we done it, we cleaned it up, and we got 40 volunteers to clean the site up because Doctors Without Borders couldn’t even pick any paper up. And if you can imagine two months of rubbish and they’re sleeping on it, it was absolutely disgusting, so I got a load of bags and gloves and brooms and I give them to the Syrians and Afghans and before I knew it they cleaned the whole site, the whole half of the site. The Doctors Without Borders … this is aid agencies, it has really opened my eyes. I’m a wood carver, what I have seen in 9 months is absolutely bloody disgusting. It’s unbelievable.
When I got back to Molyvos, I bumped into 220 Afghans, they hadn’t eaten for 3 days, they’d got in in the time we’d gone to clean the toilets, they’d come in, they walked in to the Molyvos bus stop, and all it is is a bus stop, and thy are all there. And I stopped the car and see if everyone is okay, they hadn’t eaten for 3 or 4 days, they’d been in the woods in Turkey, they’re in poor condition, they’re in soaking wet clothes when they just come in, so I rung my wife, I rung another guy, a volunteer … to get some clothes and pampers and stuff, biscuits, anything we can get, and a tourist came and helped us. Anyway, we were there for about 3 hours, we got everyone stabilised, got all the children into dry clothes and everything else and we fed them and gave them water and that, and it was France 24’s [reporter] and I said to him I’ve been in Karatepe cleaning the toilets, and I said there’s no one there, there’s no organisations there, there’s no manager in the camp, they’re just dropping the refugees outside or they’re walking, and there’s nothing, there’s no noticeboard, there’s nothing, they’re living on filth, I said, I cleaned it up, I said, where’s the UNHCR? You know, this is the biggest aid agency in the world, they have an office here, they have people here, why aren’t they doing something? And the reporter said to me, Eric, they’re over there in the restaurant eating fish and drinking wine and they’ve been there for 3 hours watching you. You can imagine how I felt. These are the experts in this situation. I’m not, I’m a woodcarver. And the other people with me, just normal people, and there you have the experts sitting eating dinner, drinking wine for 3 hours watching four people that don’t know what the hell they’re doing looking after 220 Afghans. Disgusting.
The Red Cross, another one, you know, these aid agencies are unbelievable … The Red Cross, a few months ago they advertised that they were in Moria. Moria Camp is the most disgusting pit on earth. I’ve been told that Moria Camp is worse than any Bangladeshi Camp, any Camp in Africa. And I can believe it. You see a bit of it there, the first time I went, it was a lot worse than that. The Red Cross said they had 60 volunteers in Moria Camp. This is the Danish Red Cross. And they had midwives and doctors and everything else. Anyway, I couldn’t believe what I see on the Internet, they’re advertising for donations, they’ve got this beautiful photograph. And this photograph – a lovely photograph, a lovely wall, a refugee sitting on the wall, beautiful flowers, and there they are in their red jackets and everything else. The reality was, you know, the place is a shithole. Sorry for the language, but I do get really upset. The reality was that this photo wasn’t even from Moria. This photo was somewhere else. And they’re advertising for donations and there was no one there. I went down two weeks later and it’s disgusting. I did clean that site with ten people in one morning, they say they had 60 people there, and they’re advertising for money all round the world. Two days ago, I was speaking to the guy from Denmark and there’s been a bit of a stink about the Red Cross in Denmark, and he said they have received 30 million for the Islands. I’m supplying … there’s 6 Red Cross [volunteers] there, they are Greek Red Cross with a van, I’m supplying them with emergency blankets, I’m supplying them with bandages, I’m supplying them with tape, and the Red Cross are getting all this money from around the world, it’s absolutely bloody disgusting.
We have NGO’s coming in all the time, you know, there’s something very wrong here, I don’t know how they’ve got away with it all these years, I’ve had people coming into me from Haiti, from Bangladesh, from Africa, from Croatia, when all these agencies have been there, and the stories are the same – absolute same. And now we have lots of individuals they can see where the money’s coming in, and we get all these little NGOs popping up everywhere. And they’re coming, they take photographs of women and children and everything else and they promise me the earth and we never see them again and you go on the internet and they’re advertising, showing these photographs, and they’re just taking money, they’re con-artists. One after the other. It’s sick. They’re got to be some sort of control, some sort of body, there has to be rules and laws against these aid agencies, it’s not just the big ones, but there will be people that can see they can earn a lot of money very quick and walk away with it. I was told the Danish Red Cross, you know they have to put their books out every year about how much money they spend on administration and everything else. But that only applies when they are in Denmark. When they go out to other countries that’s where it all disappears. And the guy I was speaking to about the Danish Red Cross said they are on the island. I said where? He said they’re on the West Coast. The west costs, a place called Palmieri, they are lucky to get one boat or two boats a month coming in there. And there’s a group of Red Cross from Denmark there. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. And it’s not as if they don’t know what goes on on the island. We do have a couple of really good small NGOs and we’ve been offered support from Positive Action and I know we will get it. And I thank you very much for that.
The abuses going on. You know, I’m up on this mountain looking down on a 6 KM stretch across 20-25 KM either way, and I see everything. And I talk to the refugees when they come in, and if I see abuses on their boats, I will take that boat and I will go and speak to them, some bits I have on record, and it’s on YouTube …even Sky News filmed, they came across on a boat and they filmed, they were abused … and this thing scared me more than anything, they were abused by the Turkish coastguard knowing that Sky News is on the boat with a camera and was filming and he tried to sink them and he shot at them, and told them to stop filming, and that film’s on the internet, you can see. But I see the abuses go on, one after the other, there’s different coastguard boats, there’s two very fast ones, they’re the really abusive ones, and they go round and round the dinghies, trying to get up a wave of water and they sink the dinghies. This boat slices dinghies, has a long stick with a knife, many refugees have told me, and he slices the dinghies, and when they go in the water, they pick them up and they go back to Turkey as heroes because they rescued these people, yeah. The latest one is sick, they are throwing out a cable on the boat, electric cable, and they’re putting a current down it. They tell the people to grab the boat, they’re saving them, and they put a current down the boat, I spoke to two boats two weeks ago, who told me this, and I see a burn another time on a baby’s arm from this cable. [And the use] water cannon to fill the boats with water. If you can imagine these boats, there’s 60 people, 70 people on a boat in a dinghy, the men sit round the outside on the top of the dinghy, and the women and children are in the middle, and then even when they come across the sea, the water goes in the centre and women and children are sat down in the centre. But then you get the Turkish coastguard comes, turns on the water cannon straight in the middle, so they can sink it, with all these women and children. You know, there’s a lot of people here who need to go to The Hague, a lot of people. The abuses from Turkey have got worse because the EU government have given Turkey 3 Billion to hold these people back. We are losing a lot more people now because of this decision, because they come overnight. They don’t want to come during the day because the Turkish coastguard will sink them. I had a boat come in last week and it was their fifth attempt and they’d been sunk three times by the Turkish coastguard. They finally made it. Giving the Turkish 3 Billion in my opinion to abuse refugees being persecuted and paying the government to persecute them even more is against the  Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention was put up by a group of people – intelligent people – to help people like this. And we have the EU going against it with complete immunity. It’s disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. I don’t know what the outcome of this one is, I really don’t, I know, we’ve got teams out there every night, all night, and we’re rescuing people all the time because the abuse is going on during the day, and this is due to the EU, it’s not due to anyone else, it’s due to the EU and the Turkish Government.
Okay, the solution to this, I don’t know, I’m a wood carver, it’s a crazy situation, but I do know that bombing Syria is wrong, you know, because a lot more people are going to die, it needs to be a political solution, and I know this crazy, this ISIL, is evil. And I think the Secret Services from around the world need to get together, if they really want to stop this, they’re the people with the expertise, and they need to stop the finances going into ISIL, you know, you stop the finances, you cut off the head, and that’s it. And it can’t be difficult, these Secret Services, they have the equipment and the knowledge to do this. And that would solve half the problem in Syria, and then we could get together and we could solve the war. People like Assad should be going to The Hague but that will never happen, he needs to go to the Hague. Okay, that’s me almost finished, I’d rather answer questions during lunch if you don’t mind, or after lunch, you know, we did lose three more children today, so, sad one. That’s all I got to say.
Transcribed by Robina Qureshi
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