21st rescue: Women’s song of gratefulness
It is our third day at sea and everything seemed to predict that the next rescue was to happen soon.
In flat sea conditions, we know that we have to get up early, because the migrants’ boats always depart from the Libyan coasts late at night. Once we have been alerted early by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC), it takes us less than half an-hour to get close to the rubber dinghy where we can distinguish from afar the silhouettes crammed inside. But instead of stopping, the embarkation starts accelerating and clearly seems to be trying to get away from us. Then Bertrand, one of the rescuers and Amani, MSF cultural media mediator, standing on the front deck, have to shout many times through the loudspeaker, in both English and French: “Please stop your engine! We are here to help you, we are going to take you to Italy!” and also: “Please remain calm, be patient, stay where you are!” The “track race” lasts for a few minutes until the message is well received. Once on-board the Aquarius, the rescued tell us that they feared we might be a Libyan ship that would take them back to Libya, one of the worst scenarios they could imagine.
The rescue takes place calmly, the team is well adjusted and the sea is favorable, even if the rubber boat is constantly drifting because of the current, and the Aquarius has to adjust its position several times. But the rescued who have spent some five to six hours at sea are still holding on. Just a few more hours and their dinghy would probably not have resisted the assaults of the waves. “It was of the worst quality you could imagine, and the wooden boards fixed with long screws at the bottom of the boat were constantly moving. The dinghy was already taking on water », says Bertrand.
After eight rotations of the rescue boat, the 138 rescued persons are all safe on-board. The women are evacuated first. There are forty of them and they all come from Nigeria. Three of them are pregnant, but only one is accompanied by her husband. Inside the “shelter”, the space where women are gathered, Juliette gazes at the horizon through the porthole while singing softly a gospel to “thank the Lord” for being saved. “It is God who’s singing”, she says. She lies down on the ground and spreads her arms, crying with emotion. Isabelle our photographer comforts her: “Come on Juliette, your Romeo will come!” It doesn’t take more time before the emotion and celebration spreads like a wildfire, and a loud song rises, sang by all women with harmony. One gospel after another followed by dances getting every time a bit wilder. Some women start rolling on the ground and waving their arms, while others throw their arms in the air. All are overwhelmed with emotion, their tears are running down.
After some time the voices grow silent. The joy and unwinding make way for exhaustion, and all of them fall into a peaceful sleep.
Text: Nagham Awada
Photo: Isabelle Serro