Three operations in three days put our team to a test. 513 rescued are now aboard the Aquarius, where they are being provided with essentials. The Italian Coast Guard recorded 970 rescued individuals on Wednesday alone.

One man from Dacca, Bangladesh tells us about his flight. His situation got even worse once in Libya: “We all have left Bangladesh because of violence and poverty, the situation is very bad there. But Libya is definitely worse. In Libya, you cannot go to the market without fearing to be shot.” The circumstances in Libya are being described by everyone as dramatic and inhuman. A young man from Cameroon tells the team: “The Libyans sell people.” When he first started his new job he didn’t realize, but once he asked to be paid, they threatened to kill him. He was treated like property. “The only way out is to escape.”

On Friday morning the Aquarius encountered three boats in distress. The rescue of 323 people took two and a half hours, and a boat marked as Libyan Coast Guard, watched peacefully from nearby.

One of the dinghies had already started to deflate and the team had to act fast, “the dinghy was overcrowded and we had to evacuate as quickly as possible, first women and children and then the rest of the passengers. Everybody is safe now, it is such a relief,” says Max Avis, deputy SAR coordinator.

The passengers were mostly Syrian families with children and babies, even 8-months old twins. “We are coming from hell, and we are now in heaven. On the boat it was terrifying, but we have no choice,” we were told by some of the Syrians, who were already smiling again a little after their successful rescue. They too, describe Libya as a terrible place: “the militias, no money, no government, war between two cities… I think that by the end of this year, no Syrians will be left in Libya. Myself, I was hoping to return to Syria, but I couldn’t. I had no other choice.”

Since the beginning of 2017, the Aquarius has saved 2,012 people from drowning and provides clothing, food and drink and primary medical care.

Text: Tamilwai Kolowa & Verena Papke