Migrant Offshore Aid Station - Mediterranean 2016
Destination Europe 2016
With hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees still in Libya and thousands more pouring in weekly to make the Mediterranean crossing, it was inevitable the mass exodus would start up again in force, as soon as the weather allowed. I was back on the MOAS rescue ship ‘Phoenix’ for my second season with the team off the coast of Libya.
When the migrant boats started to arrive into the ‘rescue zone’, around 14 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, they were moving much slower than the previous year, labouring, despite the relatively calm sea. As they got closer we quickly understood the reason for their deathly slow progress. The Libyan smugglers had found new ways to arrange their ‘cargo’. Knitting men, women, and children into an almost unmovable mass on the boats, meant no space remained unfilled by body or limb. In 2015 the rubber boats were jammed with an average of 100 people, now they were engorged with 150 - 170 in the same size boats, the smuggler's profits increasing exponentially.
As the people were pulled to safety, we saw the brutality the Libyan smugglers had meted out to them. Backs blackened by whippings, gunshot wounds to the legs where migrants had tried to run away from captivity, a lip splayed open by the butt of a smuggler's rifle, and the whispers of young women whose innocence had been brutally taken by Libyan men - sometimes groups of them at one time. They saw these women not has human beings, but only for ‘play’ and profit.
Once the rescued were safely onboard ‘Phoenix’, the sense of relief came in all forms of expression. Some people just passed out and slept deeply on the hard metal deck, peaceful in the knowledge their journey through ‘hell’ was over. Others prayed aloud, alone and in groups, tears, and words of thanks welded together, and some sang…