Rosemarie North, IFRC
Every person saved by the Responder search and rescue boat in the Mediterranean Ocean has a different story. Since the beginning of September, the Responder has saved 756 lives, under a partnership between the Italian Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). The Responder’s sister ship, the Phoenix, has saved hundreds more.
At the heart of each story is the search for safety and enough to eat.
A couple in Libya lose their jobs. Then their house, in Benghazi, is destroyed in the civil war. They pay to stay with someone but their savings gradually dwindle. There’s no future for them or their young daughters. Although they were born in Libya, they have no passports; they are Palestinians. They can’t leave Libya legally.
A 22-year-old is stabbed in the chest in Libya when he tries to prevent his sister being abducted by men who kill his mother and two brothers in front of him. He plays dead to avoid being killed too, and then he flees for his life. Later, on the deck of the Responder, after he is rescued, his eyes fill with tears and horror. Over and over, he unclenches his fist and uses his fingers to count the dead.
Men from Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan or other countries travel to Libya for work and, for a couple of years, everything is good. These dutiful husbands and sons send money home to their families. Then inflation erodes the buying power of their wages. For some, the wages stop altogether. If they’re unlucky, they’re beaten or thrown into jail until a relative pays a ransom. They see no future in Libya, but no legal way to leave either.
“It’s too dangerous to stay in Libya,” says one teenager. “They treat us like animals there. They put us into tiny cells with no food or water. If I’d known what Libya was like, I would never have gone. There’s no peace, no peace”
In Gambia, a 10-year-old boy loses his mother. When he’s 15, his father dies too. The boy wants to take care of his five younger brothers and sisters but the extended family seizes the land that’s rightfully theirs. The teenager is forced to leave school to eke out a living as a goat herd. Then an uncle offers to pay the passage to Europe from Libya. It’s the hope of going back to school, earning a decent living, supporting his younger brothers and sisters.
In Nigeria, a man’s parents die and other family members not only take their land, but threaten to kill the man when he complains. He escapes, looking for safety for himself, his wife and their children, aged 10, eight, six and just three months. The baby is named for the man, who has never seen him.
“I gave my name to my baby because maybe I won’t survive. Maybe I don’t make it. I thank God that you rescued us. I’m very happy that I’m still alive. I still have a lot of things to do in my life.”
A nurse in Sierra Leone goes on the run in 2015 after Ebola kills her husband, father and brother. She wants to leave her homeland before the disease kills her too. She entrusts her six-year-old son to her mother-in-law, saying she’ll find a safe place, and then call for him.
For each person, staying put is not an option. They feel forced to move, even though their journey takes them across the deadly stretch of water between Libya and Italy where more than 3,200 men, women and children have died this year.
On the Responder and Phoenix, Red Cross Red Crescent aid workers from Italy, New Zealand, Romania and Switzerland provide post-rescue assistance including first aid, medical care, food, water, dry clothes and blankets. On the Phoenix, post-rescue care is carried out by Italian Red Cross volunteers and staff.
The Red Cross Red Crescent cannot solve the problems that push people to move – conflict, violence, poverty, inequality. Those problems require political solutions.
As these dangerous sea crossings mount, the IFRC calls on world leaders to end the indifference to needless deaths in the Mediterranean and take action to protect human dignity and save lives.