A little let-down after missing out on the Nobel Peace Prize this week, the Greece islanders of Lesbos who helped rescue refugees worry that the boats will resume after a six-month lull.
“I worry that it will begin again, all these people waiting across (in Turkey), chased by bombs still falling in Syria,” says Thanassis Marmarinos, a 63-year-old fisherman.
Marmarinos is one of three residents of the coastal village of Skala Sykamias — population 150 — nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this week.
A year ago, alongside fellow fisherman Stratis Valiamos, he set out to sea to save migrants trying to reach Lesbos on board overcrowded, barely-floating dinghies and boats.
Over 800,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Aegean last year. Hundreds died in the attempt. “We did what we had to do when we saw people drowning: we saved them, that is all,” he told AFP this week. “I did nothing else for five months,” he adds. By his count, he helped rescue 75 boats or over 4,000 people.
Marmarinos, who later appeared before the European Parliament to tell of his experiences, says he was happy to do his “duty as a human being”. He is still haunted by some of the images imprinted in his mind. “The worst (memory) is the babies,” he says.
Speculation that the islanders were to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this week — an accolade that eventually went to the president of Colombia — revived painful memories of the height of last year’s migration crisis for Marmarinos and many fellow locals.
A Nobel win would have been “justice” for Lesbos whose residents rushed to help the migrants with clothes and food as they emerged from the choppy waters of the Aegean, says 84-year-old grandmother Emilia Kamvysi. The island’s brisk tourism business also took a hit this year from the migration wave.