Red Cross DM John Micallef Moreno - and RC Volunteer - Sarah Mallia - talking to migrants at the dock
Scared, exhausted and confused, 347 migrants were rescued by the authorities and brought to Malta late last night. The small fishing vessel on which they fled Libya three days earlier was overcrowded and in distress. Amid the confusion and strict reception procedures at a local military dock, five Malta Red Cross staff and volunteers provided immediate assistance.
The arrivals were a mix of nationalities, predominantly Nigerians, but also Malians, Bangladeshis, Cameroonians, Gambians, Libyans, Tunisians and Moroccans. Around 48 women were on board, at least four of whom were pregnant. They were accompanied by a dozen infants and 16 children while the majority of the remainder were single men.
Emotions were high as the migrants reached safety; “God saved us!” exclaimed Noir, a young Nigerian mother carrying her two-month-old son onto terra firma. She embraced Malta Red Cross disaster manager, John Micallef-Moreno, with a heart-felt: “Thank-you!”
Red Cross volunteers accompanied the arrivals through the reception process, which lasted well into the early hours of the morning. Blankets were distributed, as was water; while volunteers offered the most basic but urgent human comfort – a shoulder to lean on, and a patient ear.
Restoration of family links activities were immediately initiated, where note was taken of two families who had become separated in Libya and departed on different vessels. A young boy was immediately reunited with his brother.
Red Cross doctor, Arlette Vassallo, also provided primary medical assistance to six of the new arrivals. A pregnant woman in her third trimester was transferred to the local general hospital for further investigation and observation. A man suffering from severe dehydration, having not had any food or water for four days, was also taken to hospital.
Sarah Mallia, a Malta Red Cross volunteer who has two years of experience working with migrants in open centre settings, said it was “a privilege to be able to help so simply, just by being present and listening. Mirabelle and Mabelle, two new friends from Cameroon, are already calling me their sister.”
Malta Red Cross Director General Edward Caruana was at the quayside to motivate and supervise his team. “It’s at times like this that you see the results of everything you train for,” he said. “We are immensely proud of our volunteers today. They worked right through the night showing the utmost professionalism and compassion.”
This is the sixth migrant vessel to arrive in Malta since the start of the crisis in North Africa last February. The first five brought 1,106 individuals to Malta, the majority of whom remain here being cared for by authorities and civil society organisations.
“The high level of preparedness, and the high profile of Malta Red Cross in this reception operation shows that preparedness pays,” noted Slobodanka Curic, from the IFRC’s Europe Zone’s disaster management department.
“We released some 80,000 Swiss francs back in March from our Disaster Response Emergency Fund and this has allowed Malta Red Cross train volunteers and build a contingency stock of essential relief items.”