Three Fridays ago I sat in what must be one of the world’s smallest TV studios in BBC’s Broadcasting House in Belfast. On the stool next to me was Joby Fox who I’d last seen singing at the launch of Community Relations week in 2016.
We talked on air (if that’s the correct phrase for a #WowTheFest Facebook Live broadcast) about Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun, the Schaubühne play that opened this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival, and powerful drama investigating the power plays at work when conflict causes people to flee their homes and migrate across borders.
The image of Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on 2 September 2015 is probably one of the key photographs of the century. It took a picture of a dead child on the doorstep of Europe to heighten awareness and wake up western countries to the world wide migration routes, fraught with danger and misery.
Belfast musician Joby Fox was so horrified at the news of refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, he left his family and went out to Greece to help. Standing with other volunteers on the beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, he realised the real need was out at sea.
He returned to Northern Ireland with a madcap mission to fund and operate a humanitarian rescue boat in the Mediterranean. Friends were roped in, including art curator Jude Bennett and Rathlin Island ferry skipper Michael Cecil.
“Once you are exposed to something like this you feel a responsibility to these human beings, and ultimately that’s what it is about, I am a human being, they are human beings, they need me. Children never asked for this, you know, so that’s my motivation … simple.”
That’s Joby explaining his motivation to help the refugees. A film crew from Northern Ireland followed them as they purchased a rigid inflatable boat which they named Mo Chara (Irish for ‘My Friend’) and along with Devon life guards set up a 24/7 Refugee Rescue mission on Lesbos.
Filmmaker Ben Jones said:
“Everyone watches news events on TV and thinks that’s awful. However, what’s the difference between someone who just watches, and someone who gets up and just goes there right away to see what they can do? I think that’s what always fascinated me about Joby’s story.”
You can watch Joby’s Story as part of the True North series on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.40pm on Monday 30 October. It’ll be streamed live and then available to watch back on demand for 30 days. And you can find out more about Refugee Rescue on their website, Twitter and Facebook.