Susan Sarandon Joins Sea Rescue Team On Search For Refugees Headed To Greece

"We head out based on a group text, a couple of phone calls and a hunch."

12/20/2015 11:12 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2015
Tyson Sadler

LESBOS, Greece -- We are again blessed with a sunny day and calm sea. Refugees begin arriving in the south. The landings are without incident.

Babies are passed into volunteers arms, wet shoes and socks removed, blankets distributed. There are tears of relief. These boats arrived safely. With inexperienced drivers, chosen randomly at the helm, this is not always the case.

The sea rescue teams now have sophisticated systems in place to locate and guide boats to preferred spots on the beach, free of cliffs, with easy access to help. Team Humanity is one group that, with a borrowed boat and cell phones using WhatsApp, locate, guide and rescue human cargo. 

Salam heard about the crisis in Denmark and showed up intending to stay a few weeks -- but he says he’s "stuck" now and can’t leave. 

Too much has happened, good and bad. He and the other members of Team
Humanity partner with PROEM-AID, a nonprofit Spanish search and
rescue association made up of emergency professionals. PROEM-AID come
and go in two-week shifts. All work for free, pay their own way and
are on call 24/7, for there is no predicting when and where the boats
will land.

I accept an invitation to join them on their next search. We head out based on a group text, a couple of phone calls and a hunch. 

Tyson Sadler

I can’t see anything. But 15 minutes later, there it is. A rubber boat. Stable, but of course, overcrowded -- 60 people are very happy to see us. 

We wave. They wave. We draw close to the side of their boat and I see why Salam is "stuck." It’s a great feeling to be an instrument of deliverance. 

Luckily, Salam speaks Arabic and shouts that they are headed to a bad landing spot. We will guide them in.

As we approach the shore, Salam literally flies off our boat to help the novice driver turn off the motor so the other wet-suited members of the team can pull the boat into shore.

Tyson Sadler
Tyson Sadler
Tyson Sadler
Tyson Sadler

It doesn’t always go this smoothly. Recently, a boat went into shore sideways and flipped, trapping all underneath as the wind pulled them out to sea. Our heroes ran and together managed to lift the dinghy. The many trapped women and children were lifted to safety. Amazingly, Salam proudly says, not one person drowned.

Salam says he never saw a dead child before he started this work. He was asked to find out the fate of a family who crossed in October on a boat where 40 people drowned. He was sent photos. 

First, he went through the list of survivors. When he didn’t find their names, he went to the morgue. He said the bodies were stacked in piles. Women in one corner. Children in another. Men scattered. 

He recognized the jacket on a small boy in the photo as the one on a dead child. He then found his older brother. The parents also perished. Two older siblings lived and were later claimed by relatives.

There’s a field just outside Mytilene, Greece, where Muslims -- whose dream of a new life is cut short -- are washed and buried. He and another man dug the children’s graves. It took seven hours.

Tyson Sadler

RYOT and The Huffington Post are teaming up to present "The Crossing," an immersive reporting series hosted by Susan Sarandon chronicling the refugee crisis as it unfolds in Greece.

Want to read more? Join us here for more coverage, including virtual reality and 360 films about the people making the perilous journey from the Middle East toward safety.

-- Two Babies. Two Mothers. Worlds Apart.

-- Susan Sarandon Is Welcoming Refugees To Greece

-- At Lesbos, Children's Pool Toys Are Evidence Of Dangerous Journey
-- Lesbos' Lifejacket Graveyard: Susan Sarandon Visits The Frontlines Of The Refugee Crisis

-- Tsunami Survivor Now Helps Refugees On The Island Of Lesbos

Team Humanity is an entirely volunteer-run organization and relies on donations to fund their sea rescue operation. To learn more, visit

The Crossing
Suggest a correction