New Brunswick

Zoë Caddell helps Syrian refugees on Greek island of Chios

Fresh off her cycling journey to raise funds for displaced Syrians, a Rothesay woman has returned to Europe to help receive refugees from the Turkish coast.

On the heels of cycling fundraiser, Rothesay woman now volunteers with the Eastern Shore Rescue Team

Fresh off her cycling journey to raise funds for displaced Syrians, a Rothesay woman has returned to Europe to help receive refugees arriving from the Turkish coast.

Zoë Caddell is now volunteering with the Eastern Shore Rescue Team on the Greek island of Chios.

She works nights, assisting hundreds of refugees arriving on shore aboard dinghies, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey.

Caddell, supplied with water, diapers, emergency blankets and other aid, patrols a length of coast from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m., using binoculars to look for boats out on the water.

She says it can be a chaotic process when boatloads of refugees arrive. On Wednesday, more than 1,000  people arrived on the island aboard 22 boats.

"They're blowup dinghies and they're crammed full of people. It's a little bit hectic for sure," Caddell said in an interview Friday on Information Morning Saint John.

"All the life jackets everyone is wearing, they're fake. They're not actually buoyant, they're filled with a spongy foam material, and the dinghy's aren't built for wide open seas … by the time the dinghy gets here, they're full of water, they're sometimes deflated." 

When refugees arrive, Caddell helps them get changed and into registration camps for the next leg of their journey, which is most likely to Germany.

The migrants come from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, from pregnant women and toddlers, to seniors. They're fleeing dangerous situations, Caddell said, in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Pakistan, Iran and North African countries.

Only those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan can legally cross into Macedonia. Other migrants try to abandon their passports and claim other nationalities. Their other options are to seek asylum in Greece, or attempt an illegal crossing, risking repatriation or imprisonment.

"It's all upsetting, the entire situation, because a lot of this is preventable," Caddell said.

"If the Turkish-Greek border was open and crossings were legal, no one would be drowning, no one would be spending hours offshore in an inflatable boat."

Caddell says the atmosphere on Chios is split regarding the relief effort. Some are directly involved in receiving refugees on the island, while others are afraid.

"There's a lot of misconceptions, we had a man yelling he didn't want Chios to turn into Syria," Caddell said.

"He didn't want to be bombed, there's a lot of misinformation."

Caddell says she plans to volunteer in Greece for as long as she's allowed. She applied for a visa extension for a five-month stay.

"Everyone is trying, the volunteers here are making an impact," she said. "The eastern shore has done really incredible things. I just got here, but I know they're making a big difference on Chios."