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Witnessing a migrants' rescue operation: our deployment to the Mediterranean

Good weather means calmer seas. As in the past years, when the summer comes, thousands of migrants undertake the dangerous, sometimes deadly trip that they hope will lead them to a better, safer life in Europe.

June 24, 2015

According to IOM, the international Organization for Migration, 100.000 migrants have been rescued since the beginning of 2015, but at least 2.000 have died in the Mediterranean Sea  trying to reach Europe.

Italians armed forces are at the forefront of the Search and Rescue operation in the Mediterranean to reduce the number of migrants’ deaths to zero.

They are in charge of the patrolling operation of Mare Sicuro (Safe Sea), the sea section in front of the Libyan coasts and are the coordinators of Triton, the Mediterranean border-security plan made of a 15 EU member states’ task force. Additionally, the Italian Military is obliged to rescue people in distress at sea under the International Maritime law.

Among these Italian forces is the Italian Guardia di Finanza.

The Italian Guardia di Finanza’s task is to patrol the Italian terrestrial, aerial and maritime borders. But since the migrants’ crisis has erupted, the men and women of this armed force have gone far beyond their call of duty.

Raw-News producer Malou Visco, alongside Al Jazeera’s correspondent Hoda Hamid and cameramen Nuno Fernandes, got the chance to embark on the “Montesperone”, one of the Guardia di Finanza’s ships, to witness first hand what a rescue operation looks like.

This is what they found out:

Between language barrier and the unpredictability of the sea, rescue operations are incredibly stressful and exhausting for both parties, the rescuer and the rescued. Only adrenaline, concentration and lots of compassion could enable the military to successfully lead these missions. From lifting injured, adult men and carrying them on board to jumping on the sinking dinghies to prevent their capsizing, these operations cost the military in physical and emotional exhaustion.

These men and women are armed forces, not humanitarian workers. They have not been trained to rescue migrants at sea, nor their ships are equipped to host hundreds of migrants for hours, if not days, till coasts appear at the horizon. Yet, on the few days our team was at sea, the Montesperone crew rescued more than 200 migrants among whom were also a child and several pregnant women from two overcrowded, rubber dinghies. At least this time, luckily, all migrants were saved.

Here is the video of the rescue operation:

Once safe on the island of Lampedusa, the migrants shared personal details of the persecution they faced before the trip. They told our staff they are escaping wars, dictatorships, poverty. They come from Eritrea, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Nigeria.

They didn’t know what they expected to find but they knew it was better of what they had left behind. The last stop before stepping on the boats to Europe, though, was probably the most painful one. Hoda, Malou and Nuno talked to Naima and Faisal, two of the migrants just rescued. They told them of unspeakable suffering endured in Libya at the hands of the smugglers. When finally on the Montesperone, their faces expressed not only relief, but also surprise for the humanity shown by the rescuers.

Listen to their stories:

Our crew left them in Lampedusa in the care of NGOs workers and other Italian forces to take care of them.

These 234 Eritrean and Somali might have made it to Sicily, but their journeys to reunite with their relatives and to find better lives are far from over.

Hoda, Malou and Nuno disembarked from the Montesperone, and at least for now, their trip is over. After a few hours, the ship and its crew was already sailing back to international waters to begin the search and rescue operations anew.

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