Captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos rescued over 5,000 people in the waters between Greece and Turkey
“Hero of the Aegean” who saved thousands of refugees dies in Greece
Rescue workers and migrants were mourning Thursday after Captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos, nicknamed “The Hero of the Aegean” for rescuing over 5,000 people off the Greek coasts, died of heart attack.
The 44-year-old father of two was the captain of the Greek Coast Guard patrol vessel 605, which conducted rescue operations in the waters between Lesbos and Turkey at the peak of the migration flow in 2015 and 2016.
Greek Maritime Minister Fotis Kouvelis said Mr Papadopoulos “showed Europe what the values of humanity, solidarity, equality and peace mean to Greece”.
The mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, tweeted “as of today, Lesbos is poorer.”
Mr Papadopoulos was featured in a short documentary film, “4.1 miles,” which was nominated at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017.
Dubbed "the hero of the Aegean" or "the guardian angel of refugees" in Greek media, he showed great compassion for those he rescued.
"In a way, I panic, too. I'm scared. I can't reassure them," he said in the 2016 documentary film. "When I look into their eyes, I see their memories of war. They come from war. They escape the bombs that fall on their homes. And we see these families… losing each other in the Greek sea. In the sea of a peaceful country because of the way they have to cross."
The news comes as Greece grapples with overcrowding in refugee camps and accommodation issues in the mainland.
In the country’s second largest city Thessaloniki, migrants sleep on benches outside a police station in the hope of being arrested and formally processed.
The Greek Migration Ministry is currently using 5 million euros donated by the European Union to relocate migrants from the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in the island of Lesbos and place them in apartments and hotels. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), also vowed to provide another 5,000 hotel spots by the end of the month.
Aid groups have issued stark warnings of the growing safety and mental health crisis in Moria. A report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) found more than 8500 people living into a site which only has the capacity to host 3100.
Amnesty International said last week that women in Greek migrant camps are too scared to use communal showers and that many pregnant women have to sleep on the floor in unsanitary conditions.
Special Report: The refugees with no refuge
Editorial Comment: Greece must do more to ease the suffering of refugees