'I can't sleep at night': Greece's daily battle to save refugee lives

In the space of just two hours this morning, 1,500 refugees made the crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in rubber dinghies.

At one stage, there were so many inflatables in the five-mile-wide channel that the Greek coastguard had to warn commercial shipping to be careful not to run over one.

All the boats were overloaded with at least fifty people who had paid Turkish smugglers 1,200 euros each to make the journey. If they could have done it legally the ferry ride would have cost them 20 euros.

The received wisdom was that the end of summer would herald a reduction in the numbers fleeing the Middle East for Europe. That’s not the case. The Syrian war isn’t seasonal, and neither is escaping it.

On what was a calm and perfect day to make the journey, notable for their absence were the Turkish coastguard. There was no sign of them on the water and they appear to be making no effort to stop what is illegal human trafficking.

Over the last three days we have seen thousands of refugees arrive on this stepping stone to mainland Europe. They’ve done it night and day, in weather fair and foul.

Another young passenger is brought to shore safely. Credit: Sean Swan/ITV News

Although they have every right to be proud of their record of rescuing people, the overstretched Greek coastguard are worried that the heavy seas of winter will prove deadly.

A night-time crossing last Thursday ended in tragedy when waves swamped a dinghy with more than 60 on board.

A Syrian baby boy died in the chaos. The only reason anyone survived the sinking is that the coastguard was alerted and managed to save them.

Around 220,000 refugees have arrived at Lesbos this year. Credit: Sean Swan/ITV News

One of the mariners spent half an hour trying to resuscitate the baby. A couple of times he thought he had brought the child back, but it was not to be.

He described working to save the child while listening to the giddy laughter of the survivors who didn’t know about the fatality.

“They were laughing and I can’t sleep at night,” he said.