"We only had food for one more day"

By Audrey Somnard

Non-profits have been caught up in a dirty game between smugglers and European countries. Rescue ships from organisations like MSF are refused to disembark and are dragged in endless negotiations, despite international laws. Between two missions, Juan Matias Gil from MSF explains why rescuing those people is simple humanitarian care, and why NGOs are not responsible for more departures.

After ten days at sea, three days of waiting at the Catania port, all survivors on board of the Geo Barents (operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) could finally touch land Tuesday, November 8 in a safe place, away from the violence and suffering they experienced in Libya. Italian authorities first allowed the disembarkation of only 357 people, leaving 215 on board, as hostages of a political debate as Italian’s new government is publicly hostile to migrants. This decision prevented them from receiving assistance and protection onshore. After the selective disembarkation, the psychological and physical state of some of the remaining people dramatically deteriorated. One survivor was evacuated during the night of November 6 to 7 because of strong abdominal pains, and other survivors showed signs of anxiety and had panic attacks.

Since May 2021, Geo Barents rescued 5.487 people, and caught eleven bodies from the sea. The NGOs are perfectly aware that the problem is coming from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, where migrants are desperately trying to escape from dreadful Libyan camps. But lives are at stake, and Juan Matias Gil, head of mission search and rescue at MSF since November 2021 explains why the rescue operations are vital.

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