In 2013 I was on holiday with my family sailing across the Mediterranean Sea between Lampedusa and Tunisia, when we spotted a beige jacket that had probably belonged to someone who had attempted the crossing. Migration thus became a tangible reality to us.
Pope Francis’ appeal to avoid the globalization of indifference, the horrific shipwreck that occurred on October 3rd 2013 when 368 people died, and the launch of Mare Nostrum operated by the Italian Navy, pushed us to act.
So, we decided to found MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), devoted to saving human lives at sea.
As entrepreneurs, we had the know-how and resources to face this challenge. As human beings, we had the ethical and moral duty to act. As a family, we wanted to help other families forced to put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers to reach safety and give a future to their children.
If we look at the current scenario at global level, it is easy to understand that the number of people fleeing their homeland has dramatically escalated, with criminal networks thriving as smugglers exploit the lack of safe and legal alternatives. With MOAS we have also experienced first-hand a further worsening of the situation. The number of people jam-packed on unseaworthy vessels has almost doubled, as well as the cases of multiple departures from Libyan shores, while the quality of wooden boats and dinghies has become so poor that vessels barely reach international waters. Sometimes they sink even before being spotted. These developments pose enormous challenges to the MOAS crew since after a race against time at sea they have to provide medical care to our guests aboard.
From a medical perspective violence has been sharply on the rise, leaving wounds on people’s bodies and souls. More and more, we see gunshot wounds as well as severe burns caused by a mix of sea water and poor-quality fuel. People are dehydrated and exhausted, and after arriving on board of the Phoenix they fall asleep. For the first time after a long time, they feel safe.
Additionally, every day we hear stories of torture, forced labour and abuse that violate fundamental human rights, and women and children are the most vulnerable victims. Most of them are victims of sexual exploitation, they are often too ashamed to talk about it and know that they are pregnant only during medical checks on board.
Until Gaddafi’s fall, Libya was one of the countries welcoming the highest number of economic migrants, and has since become a hub for smugglers’ deadly business, with migrants and refugees trapped amid chaos and conflict due to armed militias in the country.
My family and I regularly participate in SAR missions at sea to help relieve the pain of those who survive the deadly journey. No matter how the situation in the Central Mediterranean evolves, traffickers and smugglers will not stop their business if the triggering factors of migration stay the same, and people have no hope to stay in their country of origin or find safe and legal routes while trapped in transit countries.
Six years have gone by since the Syrian war started with its unprecedented number of internally displaced persons and refugees who left the country. UNHCR released some figures updated till the end of May 2017 and summed up the current humanitarian catastrophe in the war-torn country as follows: 13.5 million people need assistance; 6.3 millions are internally displaced; 4.53 are in remote or besieged areas. Furthermore, since the beginning of the war more than 5 million people have been forced to leave the country and seek sanctuary in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other countries. The UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, has clearly stated that “Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time, a continuing cause of suffering for millions which should be garnering a groundswell of support around the world”.
Unfortunately no support or solidarity is coming and, meanwhile, the global and regional scenario is only becoming worse. Apart from Syria, since 2015 Yemen has also been ravaged by a civil war that has overlapped with a famine that has claimed millions of victims. Living conditions in the country are constantly deteriorating even if the entire world seems to ignore it. Other sensitive areas are in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh producing massive migration flows.
Even the situation in Africa has remarkably worsened, due to both the continuous political instability in many African countries and to climate change affecting vulnerable countries such as Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda. In this area, migration flows depend on people’s lack of access to food and water. Poverty compounds in a never-ending process, eventually overcoming national borders when people migrate to seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries.
In light of this, MOAS has been working for over a year on the opening of safe and legal routes to allow vulnerable people to reach Europe in a safe way, and stop the deadly business of human smugglers as well as uncontrolled migration flows. Humanitarian corridors would allow a better management of relocation policies within European Member States, and ease welcoming and integration processes which would lead to the creation of a harmonious shared society.
*Events and comments above refer to the situation till July 2017