Up to 3,400 migrants rescued off Libya coast in a single day as navies from European nations run massive rescue mission.
About 6,000 migrants were plucked out of the Mediterranean sea over the weekend. A record number that broke the previous weekend’s record. It’s just recently that the European Union has shown any interest in saving these desperate souls.
Until then, Italians were carrying the burden alone and were highly criticised by other European countries.
I am now sitting in car on the dock in Catania port. The HMS Bulwark has arrived with 1,145 migrants. I can only imagine in what they state they are.
Just a week ago, I witnessed up close two rescue operations. I was onboard an Italian ship. The image of these people stranded at sea in a rubber dinghy that is all but in name was one of the most shocking scenes I have ever seen.
It was also heartbreaking. They looked haggard, scared, dehydrated, tired. Their legs were so numb that some could simply not walk. I will never forget the woman who collapsed the minute she stepped foot on deck. Another crumbled like a pile of cards.
And their stories are impossible to listen to. But I was in awe with the dignity they kept in telling them.
One somali was talking about rape. Her eyes swelled, all the other girls around started tearing too. I wanted to know more and she said “these are things that cannot be said on TV”.
The chirpiest was Faisal, a young Somali who was living in Yemen. He started smiling ever since he saw the Italians came to his rescue. He said he would celebrate with 10 Pepsis when he landed in Italy, but he also said that he will never look back again.
“If they want to kill themselves, let them do it, I will work and hopefully bring over my wife and two kids. Not by sea, by plane!”
Before coming to Italy, I had been in Libya and met many migrants. They looked miserable, but they could not talk about their ordeals. I had also assisted to a rescue from the Libyan coast guards.
When we arrived in Misrata, people were desperate. They had no money left, and they were back to square one, and in a detention centre.
I will never forget Alima, a young pregnant woman from Ghana. She said ” i am not even angry, i am frustrated because I have nothing!”
What I did not know is the extent of the abuse that happens all along their journey: Theft, rape, humiliation, torture and racketeering. Money has to be paid at every step.
Solomon from Eritrea says his parents borrowed money from the whole village for him to be freed from the hands of the Libyan traffickers. He was held in a overcrowded warehouse somewhere near Tripoli. Water was scarce, food even more, once every 24 hours, if not more.
And then there is Ahmed, from Somalia, who had his whole torso covered with cigarette burns.
These are not isolated cases, this is the norm. Many of these young people are unaware of the risks and dangers, they are attracted by the word “Europe”, the dream place where there is no war or poverty. Nobody tells them about what it would take to reach that dream until its too late.
On this side of the Mediterranean, these migrants have become a thorny political issue. People talk about invasion, about the fighters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) being among them, about jobs being stolen and scaremongering in general is rife.
Those who arrive here are not aware they have become the eye of the storm. And despite many nations helping in the search and rescue operations, it is still the Italians who shoulder the weight. The rest seem to say: “We’ll bring them to you, sort it, we don’t care what happens next”.
P.S. None of the names here are real for safety reasons.