It was an unusually busy day for the search and rescue of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) aboard the Dignity 1 on the Mediterranean Sea when they rescued nearly 3 000 people drifting in 20 rubber dinghies and several wooden boats in a single day. One of the boats carried nearly 700 people.
“This is one of the largest numbers of people we have assisted in any single day since our search and rescue operations began over a year ago,” says Nicholas Papachrysostomou, MSF coordinator. “This unbelievable number speaks to the desperation people are facing in their countries that pushes them to risk their lives to seek safety and protection in Europe.”
Normally, the Dignity 1 accommodates up to 400 people — yet due to the dire situation on 29 August the team took on 435 people. For the other people in distress, the MSF team distributed the entire stock of 700 life jackets and used its RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) in order to transfer as many people as possible to other search and rescue vessels in the area.
A 5-day-old infant was rescued on August 29 by the crew of the Dignity 1 search and rescue boat in the Mediterranean. (Dr Pierre Vachaud, MSF)
Among the rescued people were five-day-old twins travelling with their mother who were born prematurely at eight months. One of the twins was vomiting and suffering from hypothermia. Due to this fragile condition the MSF team transferred the twins to another vessel so they could be evacuated to shore urgently.
The MSF medical team aboard the Dignity 1 treated people suffering from exhaustion, diarrhoea, dehydration, fever, hypothermia and skin diseases.
Push factors and the sea of death
Every year, thousands of people fleeing conflict, insecurity, poverty, and persecution at home attempt a treacherous journey through North Africa and across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Countless lives are lost on these dangerous journeys — but this has not deterred people from attempting them. To date, more than 3 167 people have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Safe and legal alternatives
Since 2015 MSF has repeatedly called on the European Union (EU) to put in place measures that will provide safe and legal alternatives for people forced to flee to access the assistance and protection they are desperately seeking.
Among the strategies that MSF is calling for is the creation of an ambitious European search and rescue mechanism to save lives at sea, investing in improved reception conditions that follow EU standards instead of resorting to deterrence measures, investing more ambitiously in intra-EU relocation schemes and putting an end to acts of violence and abuse from state authorities in the different countries.
Since April 21, 2016, when MSF’s search and rescue operations began this year, MSF teams on board the Dignity 1, Bourbon Argos and Aquarius (in partnership with SOS Méditerranée) have rescued a total of 11 365 people in the course of 85 different rescue operations.