“The very idea that kids could be travelling alone in the darkness, on a boat that is barely a floating device, is unthinkable.”

3 questions to Viviana, Search and Rescue Team member aboard the Aquarius

“I would see him and think ‘he could be my son’.”

During its 2 ½ years of search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, the Aquarius rescued almost 30.000 people, on which 1/4 were minors, many of them travelling without any parent or guardian. Viviana, member of the Search And Rescue team, is not only a professional rescue swimmer but also a mother. She has a 10-year old daughter and a 12-year old son. Below she explains how she relates to the minors rescued on board the Aquarius and how she tries to engage her children with this sensitive topic.

How do you feel when you rescue minors?

“I feel like every mother would feel. I think that they could be my son, my daughter. It drives me crazy. For a European mum, the very idea that her kids could be travelling alone in the darkness, on a boat that is barely a floating device, is unthinkable.

Minors are very vulnerable. I saw many teenagers from different countries travelling alone with a lot of men. We also know that a good share of these kids are victims of violence, including sexual violence, it’s not hard to accept, it is unacceptable.

You can see the difference between 17-year olds and 10-year olds. These latter are still kids, not only unaccompanied minors.
Seeing their eyes, their smiles makes me a bit weak sometimes. I say to myself ‘We are here, they are safe, they are with us’ but then I start thinking ‘why are they here? They should be in their house with their parents playing with toys and having a nice childhood. They should not be here.’ I really hope that once they disembark they receive all the protection they deserve.”

How do you talk about your job and about these children and teenagers with your own kids?

“They know that there are a lot of minors passing through that ship and they thank me for what I do. My daughter even asked me ‘Mum, can I come and help you with the kids?’. I speak really frankly with them. Of course it’s not easy to speak about things like sexual violence but they know that these minors travel alone. They know the conditions in which they arrive, that they don’t have anything. They know how the journey is, they know everything about it. In a way they are lucky because they have a mum who can open their mind and eyes by doing this job.

The kids we meet on board already experienced the most dramatic experience of their life with this journey. Our children in Europe never experienced something like that so of course it makes a difference. Our kids have everything. Often they even have things that they don’t really need.”

Did specific stories with minors stand out for you?

“I remember a boy travelling alone from Egypt, he was less than 12-year-old, like my son. He would come to me and give me a hug or a smile. We could not communicate much because he spoke Arabic and I don’t. I would see him and think ‘he could be my son’.

Once, I was in the boat landing [the spot on the Aquarius where the rescued people arrive and are welcomed by the teams] and they passed me the body of a woman. She was so beautiful but already dead. We had her newborn on board as well, 6 month-old Richard. I took care of him until we arrived in a place of safety in Italy. These are the type of stories you cannot forget. It’s like an injury, a scar, that you bear.

So far I have been reacting in a positive way. They need to be helped, not me, so I have to be strong for them. I don’t know if that will change in the future and if those stories will get back at me. I hope not. I hope that all of these stories will make me stronger. I hope that I can use all of these stories, all of these scars, to pass on something positive to my kids and to help them become better persons.”

Interview: Marine
Photo Credits: Guglielmo Mangapiane / SOS MEDITERRANEE