A Northern Ireland group set up to help Syrian refugees fleeing from their homeland has bought its own sea rescue boat, thanks to a £35,000 donation by a world famous artist.
The internationally renowned artist, who has asked to remain anonymous, donated the money to the NI-based Refugee Rescue group which is helping save the lives of Syrian refugees desperately trying to get to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Musician and human rights activist Joby Fox, who set up the permanent rescue team of volunteers two months ago, said they had taken possession of an Atlantic 75 originally made for the RNLI by Cowes Lifeboat Station on the Isle of Wight.
The anonymous donor gave the funds to the group when he heard of the work of fellow artist, Jude Bennett, a colleague of Joby Fox and co-founder of Refugee Rescue.
Joby Fox said: “As this weekend saw more distressing pictures of a refugee boat sinking in the Aegean Sea with many deaths caused by drowning, it is great news that our volunteers will soon be redeployed on their fourth mission to Lesbos with their own sea rescue boat.
“Our collaboration with local boat teams has been working well, only now we have our own boat. That means we have strategic control, and that we are more versatile and flexible when responding to crisis boats in other areas of the Aegean Sea.
“I’d like to thank all of you who have donated and helped us save lives in this awful humanitarian crisis, and a special thanks to this guy who does not want to be named. I must honour and respect that. He is a real hero and a decent human being,” he added.
Refugee Rescue has been operating daily on the island of Lesbos since October 2015. The team has been operating in collaboration with local Greek boats and has provided skilled sea rescue volunteers from Ireland. They have been out at sea saving lives when boats and dinghies got into trouble between Lesbos and Turkey
Joby said: “We are now redoubling our efforts to raise funds and to ensure we can keep our rescue boat operating with a round-the-clock skilled team, and also continue to provide on-shore coordination, delivering support where other international agencies can’t.”
During his time in Lesbos before setting up his own organisation, Joby had worked with a Swiss team helping to pull men, women and children from the sea. There have been thousands of deaths by drowning since May this year, with approximately 5,000 refugees using the crossing every day.
The small Greek island has a Northern coastline facing Turkey stretching for 10km. The narrow Mytilini Strait is approximately nine km across, making it the main crossing point from Turkey to Lesbos by refugees both from Syria and Afghanistan.
Joby said the crisis of refugees taking this perilous journey stems back to the beginning of both wars in these countries.
“Most refugees live in land-locked countries and have never even seen the sea. All are put on the boats by smugglers and often at gun-point.
The smugglers launch these boats at all times of the night and day and the weather can be awful, bad winds and dangerous seas are common place.”
Anyone interested in joining a Northern Ireland team to help relieve suffering in Lesbos or to provide funds for equipment should visit www.refugeerescue.co.uk