Shortly before 3 am Friday the first Australian refugee boat arrived from Lebanon to Mersin. Port employees, orange-jacketed Australian officials, wheelchair pushers and first aid workers all scurried to meet the hired ferry.
Waiting for the passengers to exit
Ambassador Jean Dunn personally met all of the evacuees as they left the boat and the Turkish Red Crescent gave them carnations. The sickest, oldest and less abled passengers were placed in wheelchairs and pushed into the terminal building for arrival processing.
Evacuees departing boat
Once the last of the 340 refugees left the boat I followed the media pack back downstairs to the area in from of the terminal entrance. Gradually, they exited the building and went onto the waiting buses to be taken to the Taksim International Hotel.
Lady in wheelchair exiting ferry terminal
The Lebanon evacuees had not only escaped a warzone but also spent 9 hours on a bumpy ferry ride on a boat without functioning airconditioning! They were tired and exhausted but also happy to have made it onto safe land. As they exited, I offered them the local sweet cezerye. Many asked if it was Turkish delight. One woman headscarfed woman gave an impromptu interview. She had just learnt her sister and Auntie escaped the southern Lebanon and was very joyful despite not sleeping for 9 days!
The Turkish media pack
The time between leaving the ferry terminal and entering the buses was extremely important for the journalists. They had to find a suitable interviewee with an catchy story to tell and chat with them long enough to obtain good quotes/soundbites. However, as soon as James, Fiona or Serpil had found an interviewee, the Turkish media pack surrounded the interview and reduced its quality.
After the final boat person entered the buses, Stuart, Fiona, James and I jumped in Stuart’s rental car and headed off to the Taksim. From living in London, Stuart’s sense of direction and landmark memorisation was excellent.
Ataturk picture and Australian flag behind table of food and water for the Lebanon evacuees, Taksim International Hotel foyer
The refugee check-in gave Stuart, Fiona and James more time to conduct interviews and take photos. The Australian government officials were very generous to allow the journalists to work.
Once all interviews were conducted, we left to drop James and Fiona back off at the Hilton. Stuart and I then headed onto my work office as Stuart needed to send photos to the News Limited tabloids and there was no internet access at the Hilton. Most of Stuart’s photos he chose to send were close-ups of refugees.
After 7 am, I finally arrived home for a short sleep. My sleep was very short as I was due to return to work at 9!