In search of a better life, many migrants try to cross the “world’s deadliest frontier” – the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the risks, the International Organization for Migration says the number of people crossing has doubled in the first half of this year to an estimated 77,000.
This reporter witnessed a first crossing into the Mediterranean Sea in international waters off the Libyan coast in an inflatable rescue ship sent by the SOS Mediterranean group. Before that a small wooden boat was dancing on the waves. I was dark He heard the desperate voices of over 100 migrants on the ship. It became clear what it’s like to float in the middle of no engine and only the stars as a witness to your presence.
The rescue team provided life jackets in case the overloaded boat broke down. Then the migrants started entering the rescue boat one by one. No one was left behind. For him this small step was a big leap towards a better life.
Conditions at sea could be catastrophic, said one rescuer, who identified himself only as Tengu.
“We have operations with people suffering from bullet wounds. Sometimes you have people who are already suffocated, killed in targets for whatever reason. So, it’s very different all the time,” Tangi said.
Powered by heavy dual engines, the rescue boat returned to mothership Ocean Viking, which is chartered by SOS Mediterranei. Negotiating the rocky waves, the migrants climbed the ladder on the ship.
On Ocean Viking, the rescued found clothing and a place to sleep. Some migrants sat on wooden decks, while others took refuge in containers converted into accommodations.
There was Salim, a 40-year-old veil-maker from Syria who fled his country to keep his son out of the army. They were playing dominoes. His son’s name is Mahmud.
“I come with my father from Syria because I can go to war (get draft) after reaching the age of 18. So, I have come with my father to Libya and from Libya to Italy ”
The father and son and more than 300 other rescued migrants spent their time during the rescue operation, while enduring encounters with the Libyan coast guard, which is known to push migrants back into Libya.
Rescue coordinator Anita told that the Coast Guard does not have jurisdiction.
“I think they are coming to try and intimidate us into our waters, which in any case we will never go under Libyan waters,” she said.
The International Organization for Migration attributes the increase in the number of new arrivals to the deteriorating human rights situation in Libya. Diaspora across Africa seeks security in Europe like 32-year-old Nigerian Annabelle Phillips, who came with her child, Clement.
“Security of life which I did not get in Nigeria. – And for your child? And for my child, because there is no security like here in Nigeria,” she said.
Ocean Viking operates in an area the size of Denmark, making the chances of finding a migrant boat minimal.
Critics argue that rescue operations invite migrants to take deadly risks. But Ocean Viking’s communications officer Claire Juchat disagrees.
“We can clearly see even in April 2020 during the COVID times, when the outbreak of the pandemic paralyzed the world, people kept running, but we learned more reports of shipwrecks,” Juchat said.
After taking the survivors, the Ocean Vikings set out for Italy. Migrants play and sleep all day, until excitement sets in when a seriously ill man is hauled to the port of Lampedusa by the Italian Coast Guard. Then four days later comes the long-sought moment.
The work of a port of protection ends a journey that took years for the few survivors. The next step is to see if they have COVID-19. They will then be transferred, on land, to centers where it will be determined whether they can be classified as asylum seekers, refugees.
Ocean Viking arrives at the port of Augusta in Sicily. The gangway was down. The crucial moment has come for the migrants. Will they actually step on the ground and be safe after a dangerous journey?
Encouraged by the SOS rescuers, they proceeded cautiously. A tap on the shoulder, an apostle whispered the last words in the ear, and they entered a tent where officers recorded arrivals.
Then another journey begins. It could take years to be granted asylum, and the unlucky could be sent back home, or disappear into Italy’s hard-hit informal economy.