EMERGENCY’s search and rescue ship Life Support began conducting missions in December 2022. Once the rescued people are onboard Life Support, we not only provide medical assistance but also bear witness to their stories. Below are just five of the stories we heard from the 161 people we rescued on 25 March 2023.
Many spoke of the dangerous situations they experienced before crossing the sea.
“I hoped to find paradise [in Tunisia], but on the streets we heard gunshots everywhere. Often people I knew would disappear, then I would learn that they had been caught by the police and tortured in prison. I was afraid that it could happen to me and my baby,” one woman, 28 and mother to an 8-year-old, told us. “I thought about it for a long time. The sea terrified me. I hoped that here I would find the security I have never felt in my life.”
An 18-year-old, looking after her niece, spoke of corruption and violence at the hands of the Libyan police: “One day my brother and his wife had left home. They arrested me and the little girl, who was four years old at the time. I didn’t know why, then I realised they wanted money. We were in prison for a year. They beat me all over my body. I still have the scars. Every night they chose a woman to rape. Luckily, they never chose me. While they were beating us, they smoked like it was a game.”
“I come from the northern part of Côte d’Ivoire, where the percentage of female genital mutilation is really high. What was I supposed to do? Marry and hope to have only sons?” asks a 39-year-old man. “In 2019 I was forced to leave. In Tunisia I eventually got married and we had little Miriam who is now 1 year and 3 months old. At some point I started to be stopped on the street by locals, they would ask me if I was a terrorist. One evening, on my way home, I was stopped by a group of about 15 people. First they started to provoke me, then to beat me, they broke glass bottles and hit me on the back. I decided to send my wife away immediately with our Miriam, they are now in Genoa. I can’t wait to hold them in my arms again.”
The journey itself is severe, with ill-equipped vessels often facing extreme weather conditions. Those who travel across the Central Mediterranean face the deadliest migration route in the world.
“In fact when I saw the boat I said to myself: ‘It is not possible to cross the Mediterranean in such a small boat,’” explains another woman, also 28 and mother to two-year-old twins. “But I accepted my fate. I was so afraid for my children. We were at sea for three days, stranded, adrift. Without food, without water. I thought, if something happens to my children, I will never forgive myself.”
“I spent three days in the sea, without drinking or eating, without being able to use a bath, in the hot sun and in the cold at night,” said another woman, 45. She suffers from hypertension. “When you rescued us, I had petrol all over my body. I could not walk, could not stand. They had to carry me.”
Sadly, these experiences are not unusual; hearing the stories of hardship and resilience from the people we rescue reminds us, again and again, why we are at sea.
For more testimonies from rescued people and crew members, and other updates onboard Life Support, follow along on our live blog: