The testimony from Aquarius: "It is better to drown than to be arrested by the Libyan navy. In Libya it is as if we were reliving slavery "
The humanitarian ship arrived in Augsburg with 373 refugees on board
The Aquarius ship, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and managed in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières, arrived this morning in Augusta, "safe harbor" ("Port of Safety") indicated by the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Center) of Rome, with on board 373 refugees rescued in international waters off Libya on the night between Christmas and Santo Stefano from the humanitarian ship OpenArms of the Ong ProActiva and the Spanish military ship Santamaria of the EUNAVFORMED device.
The survivors, rescued in international waters off the Libyan coast, were transferred to the Aquarius vessel at the request of the MRCC of Rome on the afternoon of December 26th.
The first transfer took place around 15.00, when the ship Aquarius welcomed 139 people on board, rescued from the OpenArms ship of the Ong Proactiva around 4.00 am on the day of Boxing Day. The survivors, who were all aboard a single dinghy, come from 17 different nationalities: the majority comes from Pakistan (41 people, including several families with children), from Sudan (43), from Bangladesh (14) but there they are also Libyans, Nepalese, Eritreans and Somalis. Among them are 30 minors, 8 of whom are unaccompanied, 7 children under 13 and 2 pregnant women.
Photo credit: Federica Mameli / SOS MEDITERRANEE
On the same day, around 6.00 pm, the Aquarius vessel received a further 234 people on board from the Spanish military ship Santamaria: most come from Eritrea and Morocco but also from Libya, Ethiopia, Guinea Conacry, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria , Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan (North). Among them there are 39 minors, 24 of whom are unaccompanied and 7 of less than 13 years.
A young 28-year-old Eritrean told the rescuers of the Aquarius vessel that the boat he was on had left the Libyan coast on Christmas Day: " We would call 25 December the" Italian Christmas ", from the time when Italy had colonized Eritrea, perhaps for this reason we were lucky and we were rescued, "he added.
The transfers took place quickly and without incident, despite the poor weather conditions: " We did not expect rescue, especially because the wind had started to rise the night before and it seemed too dangerous for an unsafe dinghy to try this already extremely dangerous journey. But, in reality, people were pushed into the sea on Christmas Day and if these people were willing to take this risk, some with their families, it is certainly because they had no alternative but to run away by sea , "said Klaus Merkle , SAR (Search and Rescue) Coordinator of SOS MEDITERRANEE on board the Aquarius ship
The weather conditions on the Mediterranean still deteriorate and until Friday there are strong winds and waves 4-5 meters high in the SAR (Search and Rescue) area.
Among the 373 refugees now on board the Aquarius, there are several families with children and 32 unaccompanied minors, including two boys aged 14 and 13 traveling alone.
14 people with burns due to fuel leakage on boats and a person with walking difficulties, transported on a stretcher in the on-board clinic, were entrusted to the care of the doctors of MSF, a health partner on board the Aquarius vessel.
A young man from Mali told the rescuers of SOS MEDITERRANEE that he had already tried the crossing three times: " The first time we were arrested by the Asma Boys, the bandits ". Last time, the inflatable boat on which he was traveling was intercepted by the Libyan navy: " When the ship arrived and we saw the Libyan flag, we tried to escape.
Everyone was worried. They did not let us escape, but they continued to follow us. In order not to risk people's lives, because there were many women and many children among us, we let them do it. No one has fallen into the water, thank God "he said and added:" even yesterday when the Spanish boat arrived we were worried, but after I told my friends: "Look how these people treat us well." On the Libyan ship, They did not even give us water. "Once on the ship, they went to the bathroom to wash before eating, leaving us without food ."
The young man also told of having been taken to prison, once reported to Tripoli:
" When we arrived at the port of Tripoli, the humanitarian organizations were there, they took our addresses. Then we were put on the bus and they took us to the prisons. Prisons are not organized, they were very tight, even sitting was impossible. You walk on each other. There humanitarian organizations were not there. Even having water was difficult. We drank slowly because we did not know if they would bring us more water later. One day they brought 5 liters of water, and then we spent three days without it. We started drinking bad water and we were fed raw pasta. Better to repatriate quickly than to be in Libyan prisons. Others say it is better to drown than stay in Libyan prisons. We risk life, but it is better to drown than to be arrested by the Libyan navy. It is as if we were living slavery again. Blacks are their slaves, this is what they think in Libya today . "
The humanitarian ship arrived in Augsburg with 373 refugees on board-Video