Monday, August 1, 2016

Spanish NGO helps refugees overcome sea-crossing trauma with swimming lessons

A Spanish non-governmental organization has been providing special classes for young refugees in an attempt to help them overcome the trauma experienced when crossing the stretch of water between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos in unstable and overcrowded vessels.

A month ago, the Spanish voluntary rescue service ProemAid (Professional Emergency Aid), which has carried out search and rescue operations in Lesbos, launched a swimming class program for young refugees aimed at reconciling their relationship with the sea, which they often view as a hostile environment.

Most of the children arrived in Lesbos alone, after either traveling without family members or losing them to the perilous 10 kilometer strait between Turkey and Greece, which has claimed the lives of thousands of refugees, many of whom did not know how to swim.

The program works with the Pikpa refugee camp, home to around 400 vulnerable children and the lessons were conducted by volunteers, monitors and translators for two hours a day, three times a week.

Describing the process of the classes to EFE, president of ProemAid, Jose Antonio Reina said the children are shown how the buoyancy aids work while on dry land before heading down to the shore together.

For some of the children, several sessions are required for them to overcome the fear of entering the Aegean waters again.

According to Reina, smaller children between the ages of five and six are usually more afraid to start swimming without the assistance of the volunteers, whereas many of the older children, aged eight to 10, could already swim.

The program sought to offer therapeutic and playful activities for children in an environment that many had previously considered hostile.

Despite government efforts to curb the number of migrants arriving in Greece from across the Aegean, many refugees still opt for this route.

There has recently been a surge in people arriving on the Greek Aegean islands, but it remained unclear whether the increase was connected to the failed Turkish coup d'etat on July 15.

There were around 58,000 refugees in Greece, spread out over refugees camps and special accommodation across the country.

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