GNR “Med mission” returns to Portugal after saving 1265 refugees at sea

In just three months, nine GNR agents attached to the EU Mediterranean relief mission “Poseidon Sea” saved 1265 people and detected more than 3067 trying to make the dangerous sea crossing into Europe.

Stationed on the Greek island of Lesbos, close to the frontier between Greece and Turkey, the men described the emotions behind “performing their duty” as they returned home to Portugal last night.

Lt-Col João Brito said the team “witnessed huge personal tragedies. Entire families, some with children, exhausted and hungry. It is a huge humanitarian problem. Our role was to support these people, many in states of total despair who threw themselves into the sea waiting for us to save them.

“It is a situation that is not easy to deal with on an emotional level”, he added. “There was a strong initial impact but our operation was so intense that strong emotions became routine”.

According to reports in the press this morning, the men patrolled an area of around 3800 miles during their mission that began in July.

Lt-Col Brito explained that previous missions, in 2013 and 2014 had only detected “around 400” refugees.

“The increase has been substantial and shows the dimension of the problem”, he added.

His comments came on the same day that president of Portugal’s refugee council Teresa Tito de Morais suggested Portugal might be ready to take on more than the 1500 refugees that are scheduled to arrive over the next two years.

Talking at a meeting in Olhão, in the Algarve, she said: “If there were five borough councils who would take a few hundred, we could quickly take in more”.

Morais was in Olhão following news that the Moncarapacho-Fuzeta delegation of the Red Cross was ready to donate land for a refugee camp click here

According to Correio da Manhã, Olhão council is keen to propose an alternative to the 1700-metre site suggested.

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©Italian Navy/Massimo Sestini – UNHCR