The Mediterranean Sea continues to swallow lives. Every day hundreds of people, if not thousands, risk their lives trying to reach Europe by water. Everyone escapes from the reality in which they live: miseries, wars, destruction and violence, among other evils. So serious is this situation that they prefer to face the possibility of dying rather than stay in their homes.
The numbers speak for themselves. The central Mediterranean was the most active route in the first two months of this year for the irregular arrival of migrants, with almost 12,000 crossings. This was reported by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency that is in charge of patrolling the area. This figure represents a growth of more than 100% compared to the same month last year.
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In general terms, UNHCR, the United Nations body for the protection of refugees and displaced persons, estimates that so far this year 20,995 people have crossed the entire Mediterranean, leaving 309 people dead or missing. Most of them leave from Libya, Tunisia or Turkey. While the points of entry to the precious Europe are through Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus or Malta.
A refugee gives thanks after being rescued in the Mediterranean. (Photo: Ximena Borrazas)
European governments seem to look the other way with anti-migration policies or putting sticks in the wheels so that humanitarian organizations can help. It has become an uncomfortable crisis for every president on duty since it erupted in 2015 over the ferocious civil war in Syria that forced millions of people from their homes. This is where the humanitarian work of different NGOs emerges.
Putting the body in danger to save lives
“We approached with the rescue boat and I couldn’t believe the number of children that were in that totally precarious boat, where many did not even have life jackets or were clinging to a kind of rubber where they even ‘danced’ because it was much bigger than the boys”, recounts with anguish during an interview with TN the photojournalist Ximena Borrazas, who accompanied the Spanish rescue ship “Aita Mari”, which is managed by the NGO Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (SMH).
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It is one of the dozen boats that travel the Mediterranean Sea in search of the desperate migrants who risk their lives to try to cross them. “What you find there is urgent and serious health situations,” Marta Navarro, a Spanish nurse who also participated as a volunteer on different rescue trips, tells for this article, to later add: “they arrive fainted, with hypothermia, dehydrated everything, not to mention psychological disorders.”
It happens that many of the migrants who are rescued in the open sea not only escape the horror in their places of origin, but also have to cross very hostile territories with criminal gangs that in many cases kidnap, rape and torture them. They are the refugees who live, for example, in the center of Africa and cross the long deserts until they reach the countries that have access to the Mediterranean.
“I can’t get the image out of my head of a woman who, as soon as she got on the rescue boat, broke flat, she was in shock,” recalls photojournalist Ximena Borrazas sadly. “I couldn’t hold back the tears, the stories I heard on board today I still couldn’t assimilate,” she adds during the talk with TN. The same thing happens to the nurse Marta. They both know that they have to be strong to transmit security to the migrants, but this situation exceeds any human logic.
The odyssey of the humanitarian organizations themselves
The Spanish ship “Aita Mari” was able to rescue 71 people in Mediterranean waters during the last two incursions. It means a positive balance, there are 71 lives that could have been left at sea, as is the case with many other cases. In recent weeks, the shipwreck off the Italian coast of Calabria, which left at least 69 deaths, went around the world.
In this latest tragedy assistance was late. But it is not the humanitarian organizations that are in charge of saving lives, it should be the border patrols of each of the countries. NGOs give support to the -frequent- inaction of European governments. Even after the Italian shipwreck it became known that the authorities had been notified with sufficient time for action. But they did nothing.
It is estimated that 20% of those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean are children. (Photo: Ximena Borrazas)
Most European countries are wary of humanitarian vessels and monitor them closely. They are given a route, a path, and they cannot deviate without that authorization. Meanwhile, the boats continue to ask for help in the middle of the sea. The photojournalist Borrazas said that many migrants have cell phones without a signal and are guided by the stars: “that is their compass,” she laments.
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“I think that the countries are not doing everything that can be done,” the Spanish nurse who participated in several rescues aboard humanitarian boats gets angry. “Not everything can be in our hands,” she sums up. It is that, in the lucky case that the migrants are rescued, the journey will not be complete. Then they will have to manage to try to insert themselves into totally different societies, which many times prefer not to receive them.