161 PEOPLE RESCUED BY EMERGENCY’S SHIP LIFE SUPPORT DISEMBARK IN ORTONA
EMANUELE NANNINI, PROGRAMME COORDINATOR ON BOARD:
“WE PLAN TO LEAVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE TO CONTINUE RESCUING PEOPLE IN DISTRESS AT SEA.”
Ortona, 28 March 2023 – In the port of Ortona, at 3pm today, EMERGENCY completed the disembarkation of 161 people rescued between the night and morning of 25 March by the ship Life Support in three different rescue operations. All operations at sea were carried out in coordination with the Italian Coast Guard.
Italian authorities continue to assign Places of Safety far from the rescue areas, extending NGO search and rescue missions. “Compared to the time it would have taken to reach closer ports, like in Sicily, arriving in Ortona meant an additional two days of sailing. International law stipulates that they should have been taken to a Place of Safety as soon as possible. Life Support could have already been on its way back to international waters to save more lives,” comments Emanuele Nannini, Programme Coordinator on board Life Support. “To reach the port we faced adverse and particularly challenging maritime weather conditions: last night the waves were four metres high and the conditions were difficult both for the crew and for the rescued people on board, who suffered greatly.”
The 161 people are from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Over a third of the survivors are children (61), seven of whom are accompanied and 54 unaccompanied. There are also 26 women on board, three of whom are pregnant.
“We want to return to the Mediterranean as soon as possible, making ourselves available to the competent authorities at sea. During this last mission, we received many reports of boats in trouble in the Mediterranean and especially on the Tunisian route,” continues Nannini. “In fact, we witnessed the effects of Tunisia’s recent policies towards foreigners on its territory and the serious economic crisis that is afflicting the country. On board, the survivors told us how Tunisia risks becoming the new Libya: arbitrary arrests and police violence, armed robberies without anyone intervening, houses set on fire because they are inhabited by foreigners.”
The people EMERGENCY rescued had left from Zwara, Libya, in the first case, and from Sfax, Tunisia, in the second and third. In the latter two cases, they spent more than three days drifting at sea.
“I am 45 years old and I suffer from hypertension,” reports one of the rescued women. “I spent three days at sea, without drinking or eating, without being able to use a toilet, under the scorching sun and in the night cold. When you rescued us, I had petrol spilling from the canisters all over my body. I could not walk, could not stand. They had to carry me.”
Another rescued woman, 28 years old and mother to a pair of two-year-old twins, remembers the journey this way: “I thought, if something happens to my children, I will never forgive myself. We were adrift at sea for three days because the engine stopped working. We were out of food and water. On board we were soaked in diesel, urine, excrement, vomit. The little ones were crying non-stop.”
“As soon as I saw the situation in Tunisia deteriorating, I decided to send my wife off immediately with our baby. I can’t wait to hold them in my arms again,” one of the rescued men told us. “I was at sea for three days. We met many fishing boats, but the fishermen told us they could not let us board their ships because they risked criminal charges. They would have called for help. When we saw your ship, we understood that you would not let us die.”
Others who have lived or transited in Libya and Tunisia report incidents of violence:
“Me and my 4-year-old niece, whom I looked after at the time, were in prison in Libya 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.”
A 40-year-old rescued woman says, “I lived in Tunisia for five years, working honestly, until it became a really dangerous place. The locals started throwing stones at us in the streets, threatening us with weapons to take our money and phones, burning our houses, not paying us at work or firing us from day to night. The law in Tunisia is not the same for everyone, human rights are not respected. I still have friends left in Tunisia who are currently in prison, without having committed any crime. How can you stay in a country where you are afraid to even leave your house?”
Active in search and rescue operations since December 2022, Life Support completed its fourth mission today. In these four months, it has rescued 564 people.