Saved from the sea himself two years ago, now helping to save others in peril of the Greek coast


Sunday 21 October 2018 | 1:30 AM Damascus Time

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  • Saved from the sea himself two years ago, now helping to save others in peril of the Greek coast

    Baladi News - UNHCR

    Obada “Ibo” Al-Nassar trained as a lifeguard after arriving in Greece and is a volunteer with the Lifeguard Hellas (LH) organization, which joined the operation that began when terrified civilians rushed headlong on to the beaches or into the water.         

    LH lifeguards were among the first on the scene on the day of the fire, July 23, when hundreds were ferried to safety in other parts of the mainland. In the following days, the LH team, including Ibo, continued the offshore search for the missing and dead.

    “Ibo was involved in the Mati operation. He was an active member,” says Spiros Mitritsakis, who runs LH with his wife Mania Bikof. “He’s an exceptional lifeguard,” adds the veteran.

    As for Ibo, he says he is glad to be doing something constructive with people that have come to be like a family.

    He is probably the only Syrian lifeguard in Greece, teaching people to master the sea and rescuing those in difficulty.

    When he crossed to Lesvos more than a year ago, it was only the intervention of a naval ship that saved him when his dinghy began breaking up.

    After arriving, Ibo was taken to the Moria Reception and Identification Centre. “This was the worst. It was hell,” he recalls. However, he soon made friends outside the site with some foreign lifeguards who had come to help Greece. They aroused his interest in their work.

    Through them he met Spiros and became a lifeguard. The LH mainly works along the coast off Athens and relies on donations. In late 2015, it deployed a team of volunteers on Lesvos until June this year. Based in an IKEA housing unit provided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the round-the-clock operation helped rescue thousands in their stretch of coast.

    Ibo fitted in well with the LH volunteers from Greece and further afield, initially helping teach children at the Kara Tepe municipal accommodation site to swim in the sea nearby. “He had a desire to learn, to do things,” says Mania.

    The team welcomed him and he was taken to the LH school in Athens and trained to be a lifeguard. This included courses on water safety, first aid, equipment, diving, rescuing people in the water, teaching swimming and working out. The next challenge is to master the Greek language.

    Ibo moved to accommodation in Athens after being authorized to leave Lesvos. 

    He has just been recognized as a refugee, more than a year after applying for asylum.

    However, challenges remain, like finding a job. Ibo has not really thought about the long term. “I have to think about how to survive today,” he says. Ibo once thought of study engineering in Syria but is happy to do unskilled work.

    Ibo says he will stay connected with the lifeguards. He is grateful to Greece and happy to give something back.

    Syrian refugeesyrian storyGreecelifeguards