Everyday Heroes

Meet The Spanish Lifeguards Who Left Their Lives Behind To Save Refugees

What an incredible story.

The boat tips and sways. It lurches forward on a wave then drops down heavily under the weight of its 50 passengers. Intended to hold a maximum of 20 people, the boat barely stays above the water in good conditions, never mind the worsening weather.

This is reality for the estimated 1,000 refugees who arrive in Lesbos, Greece, each day. With any luck they will land somewhere in the ten miles of coastline monitored by Proactiva Open Arms, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that a group of Spanish lifeguards started in order to help save the lives of refugees who cross the sea into Greece.

“Everything started with some pictures posted on social media of four drowned kids on a beach,” Oscar Camps, the Proactiva Open Arms director, writes on the group’s website. “Then we thought: if our work is to rescue people on the sea and we do it on our local beaches… Why are people dying there and nobody is helping them?”

Lifeguards from Barcelona, Spain, formed the organization in September 2015. With no public funding, the lifeguards left their lives behind them and headed out with just 15,000 euros and a mission to help others. Currently they assist around 20 boats a day full of men, women, children and elderly, working to protect refugees from the dangerous waters and trying to assure them safe arrival on shore.

The situation on the Aegean Sea is becoming urgent as the water gets colder each day. The cold choppy waters cut down the time rescuers have to save lives. Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean have reached record highs this year. A just-released figure from the United Nations puts the number at 3,800 so far in 2016.

Without the efforts of Proactiva Open Arms and other organizations like it, there’s no question that number would be much higher.

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At this time, thousands of people with tragic stories behind their backs have gone through our arms,” the group wrote on their Facebook page.


To learn more about the group and how you can help check out the video below. Or head to their website. It is originally published in Spanish but several of the sections can be translated to English.