Our first rescue began, yesterday on Wednesday 22 February 2017, at 8.00 am when our captain spotted a grey rubber boat. From a distance we could tell that the dinghy seemed to be in a decent condition still, some passengers were even wearing life jackets. Which is exceptional. What we normally observe is that people are not wearing life jackets, mostly they’re not even wearing shoes. One hour later, both our fast boats were launched, to establish first contact and soon after the distribution of life jackets could begin. The rescue went smoothly, in good weather conditions with almost no wind or waves. During the last weeks and months we faced quite different conditions, with strong wind and waves complicating the rescue operations.
The 90 rescued individuals were all safely aboard the Aquarius only two hours after we had spotted them. The vast majority, 75 of them, came from Bangladesh and told us:
“We are from Bangladesh but we have been working in Tripoli for four years. But now it is too dangerous in Libya. The problem for us in Libya is not work, the problem is security, the situation is really, really bad.”
However, our efforts would not stop here. This was only beginning: There were three more rescues to come. Shortly after the end of the first one, we received a call from the rescue coordination centre in Rome, directing us to another grey rubber boat. The rescue started afterwards and all 45 refugees were brought safely aboard the Aquarius.
Not long after we received yet another distress call, directing us towards two more rubber boats, Again we approached the first rubber boat, to start the initial medical assessment and to determine whether there were any emergencies, before beginning to distribute life jackets. Then the second one. The entire rescue took almost two hours, but ran smoothly and people were very helpful, calming each other down. 128 people were rescued from the first of these two rubber boats, and 130 people off the second.
Again, the rescued told us traumatic stories from Libya, that all paint a similar picture of systematic violence:
“I’ve spent 7 months and 3 weeks in Libya. The situation there is really bad, you can see on my neck here, it is the wound of a knife cut. They did that because they wanted my money. And here my jaw, you see? They beat me with a Kalashnikov. Anything you have, the Libyans will take it away from you, they rob you, they threaten to kill you. And if you don’t have money they kidnap you,” says Issouf, from Gambia.
According to the Italian Coast Guard, a total of 730 individuals were rescued yesterday on the central Mediterranean Route between Libya and Italy. 394 of them are in safety aboard the Aquarius. Every rescue operation is given a number, our latest operation this afternoon is SAR CASE 181, making it the one-hundred-and-eighty-first rescue operation in the central Mediterranean in the first 53 days of this year. It is not hard to see that the number of boats being rescued on a daily basis is very high, making one wonder how many are lost, never to be found and accounted for.
Text: Lea Main-Klingst