Migrants and Refugees Are Rescued From Boat Adrift Off Lesbos

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By Bill Neely

MOLYVOS, Greece — When we reached them, far out at sea, many of the refugees and migrants were yelling and blowing whistles to attract our attention. Some of the children were screaming.

They had been adrift on the fishing boat they'd boarded in the dark with the help of smugglers four hours earlier.

Finally they saw the Greek coast guard vessel that might save their lives.

Huddled together — men at one end, women, children and babies at the other — they looked terrified.

This fishing boat carrying migrants and refugees was rescued in the Aegean Sea off Lesbos, Greece, on Wednesday.NBC News

But the sea was so choppy that their boat was rising and falling 15 feet in the water, buffeted by a force six (around 30 mph) gale. They were in deep trouble.

The Greek coast guard ship came close enough to throw a rope to the bobbing vessel but there was every chance the two vessels would collide.

The refugees and migrants aboard didn't appear to know what to do with the rope. The coast guard captain kept shouting: "Stay calm, stay down." But it was clear some were scared they would die in the open water.

After a 30-minute operation, their boat was secured and being towed back to Molyvos harbor on the island of Lesbos in Aegean Sea.

By the time they arrived ashore, they were exhausted and shivering.

They were all Syrian, some fleeing from the Kurdish town of Kobani.

"I'm so happy. I'm so happy — so, so happy," one woman shouted as her feet touched dry land having reached Europe.

Children were carefully passed from their parents' arms to the coast guard officers and then onto the shore.

Among those who survived the journey was Muhammad Albakar, who used his crutches to hop off the boat. Albakar said he lost one leg two years ago in a Syrian airstrike in his home city of Aleppo.

One young man wore his taekwando gloves and had packed the rest of his sports gear in a backpack, dreaming of a new life in Germany.

Mohamed Amin looked relieved and when he heard we had come from London. "William Shakespeare!" he said. "I love 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear'!"

Amin was overjoyed that his journey had not turned in to a similar tragedy.

As they were given water after reaching Molyvos, a small inflatable dinghy with around 30 people on board appeared in the distance as it was towed in by another coast guard ship.

In the last two days alone, dozens of boats carrying refugees and migrants have made the journey from Turkey. According to the International Organization for Migration, around 3,000 people have died trying to reach Europe by sea this year.

The weather is poor but that has not deterred thousands from risking their lives to attempt the crossing.

The Greek coast guard has rescued more than 200 people since Tuesday and brought them back to the island — which is now the main gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees seeking a new start in the West.