Europe

British couple help stranded Syrian refugees to safety

Greek coastguard Image copyright Stephanie Kershaw-Marsh
Image caption Andy Marsh helped move rescued refugees from a beach to the local coastguard boat

In the week that police in Cyprus had to persuade nearly 300 Syrian migrants to disembark from the cruise ship that had rescued them, one couple experienced a migrant rescue first-hand.

Stephanie Kershaw-Marsh and husband Andy have spent the summer cruising on their boat around the coast of Turkey and Greece. On the 23 September they were anchored off the Greek Island of Symi and were woken at 05:30 by shouting. They told the BBC News website their story.

"When I reached the deck the shouting became louder and there were cries for help and screaming. It was pitch black as there was no moon.

"We put the search light on and saw several people in the water wearing lifejackets. One of us jumped in the dinghy to go and help whilst the other put out several radio calls, including a mayday. We didn't get an answer, probably due to the surrounding cliffs.

"We did manage to get a phone call through to Falmouth Coastguard and they alerted the local authorities. The local coastguard sent the patrol boat round.

"By the time they arrived we had helped 11 people onto the beach; five rescued in the dinghy, one towed by the dinghy and five who managed to swim.

Image copyright Stephanie Kershaw-Marsh

"A larger coastguard boat arrived at 10:45 to take the people off the beach.

"Whilst we were waiting for the larger boat to arrive, Andy went out in the dinghy and collected several rucksacks wrapped in bin bags. He later went out snorkelling and found one of the men's bumbags containing money, passport, toiletries, medication, etc. They were obviously very pleased to have their belongings back.

"The coastguard boat was too big to get to the shore so Andy helped ferry the people from the beach to the boat.

"Andy spoke to one of the refugees on the beach who spoke a little English. He told us that he has two restaurants in his home town which are three doors from the military academy which is being bombed.

"He said he has left his wife and two children behind in the hope that he will be able to earn enough money to get them out at a later date.

"They told us that they had each paid €2700 to travel from Marmaris in Turkey to Greece in a wooden boat with a high powered outboard engine.

"They were packed into the forward, covered area of the boat, lying on top of each other. When the boat rounded the corner into the bay, the skipper called out 'police, police' and proceeded to push the people off.

"They must have been approximately 1000m off shore when they were pushed overboard and had been in the water for an hour or so before I heard them.

"They were scattered all over the bay when Andy went to help them.

"Luckily, the water was fairly warm and it was a very still night. What little current there was helped to push them into the bay.

"We believe that if they had been in the water for much longer there may have been fatalities as they were very tired and were panicking and were disorientated. Once we had them all on the beach we took them water and cereal bars.

Image copyright Stephanie Kershaw-Marsh

"They dried off very quickly as the sun came up. The refugees kept asking where they were and asking us to call the Red Cross.

"I (Stephanie) am pretty sure that I saw a boat's navigation lights leaving the bay once we had started to rescue the refugees.

"The coastguard that came out to us initially said that there were several drops of refugees along the coastline that morning and we have since seen evidence of this - clothing on rocks, left to dry, etc.

"The next day, we went to the local town's police station to return some items that we had found in our dinghy.

"The refugees on the balcony of the police station and were happy to see us.

"We don't know what has happened to them since, but we were pleased to see that they were well taken care of by the local police."

Produced by Sally Taft and Richard Irvine-Brown

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