Chapter VIII: Getting ashore


After almost two days of sailing, Dignity I draws close to Italy, to the port of Messina on the island of Sicily, with 451 people on board. As we cross the Strait of Messina, the women start to sing. From up above, on deck, they can hear the men breaking into applause. “Bosa! Bosa!” (Victory! Victory!). The ship is now close to its destination and the crew prepare to raise the country’s flag.

One of the officers jokes: “Should I hoist the Libyan flag?”

“No! Italy! Italy! Italy!” everyone shouts.

Passengers hug each other with joy when the Italian coastline comes into view. | Anna Surinyach

They’ve left Libya, the rescue and the two days on Dignity I behind them. They’re restless and ready to move on to the next stage of their journey.

Arriving at the port of Messina, an extraordinary scene unfolds – a metaphor of the contradictions within Europe and the Mediterranean Sea itself; an image of our times. A huge French cruise ship is moored in the port. The rescued people wave excitedly at the cruise ship’s passengers. Most of the tourists look back at them with indifference or move away to the other side of the ship, but some return the waves. Dignity I docks alongside the ship. For some, the sea is a place to enjoy a holiday; for others, it’s a potential death trap that they must negotiate to keep on living.

Having docked, the Italian authorities come to inspect Dignity I. Doctors from the Ministry of Health climb aboard. Lawyers climb aboard. On the dockside, a crowd of people wait, including journalists, charity volunteers and police officers. In her father’s arms, 10-month-old Lamar looks in wonder at the tents, buses and cameras.

Lamar arrives in Italy, still smiling. She’s only 10 months old and has survived a rescue mission. | Anna Surinyach

Gradually everyone disembarks. Dignity I, full of life for two days, is now left empty. The Italian authorities register all those rescued and transfer them to detention centres. Another life is now beginning for these people. They’re in Europe, but in custody. Some of them are transferred to other parts of the island or other parts of the country. The Italian reception system lacks the resources to provide sufficient humanitarian and legal assistance for these survivors.

Dignity I docks in the Sicilian port of Messina. | Anna Surinyach

Mohamed does not let go of his baby daughter Lamar for one moment. She carries on playing, despite the heat. She has hardly stopped smiling throughout the whole journey, despite its discomforts. She asks for hugs from everyone she meets.

Now Lamar’s on dry land. Europe didn't save her life; an aid organisation had to do it. How will Europe treat her now?