Chapter VI: Towards Italy


After the rescue, Dignity I heads onwards with 100 rescued people on board. We’re at one of the most carefully guarded borders in the world, yet it still doesn’t stop thousands of people from dying each year, especially since the suspension of the Italian rescue mission Mare Nostrum, partly funded by the European Union in 2014. Just over 12 nautical miles north of Libya, international waters begin. The boats on which people set out have just enough fuel to reach international waters, where they hope to be rescued. To travel much further is a pipe dream.

Rescued people talk to each other on the lower deck of Dignity I, en route to Italy. | Anna Surinyach

In the sea around Dignity I are other search and rescue ships, military frigates, merchant vessels which want nothing to do with any rescues, oil platforms... A maritime universe in which political and economic interests are interwoven. This is where thousands of people risk their lives every year.

While Dignity I waits, its rescue launches search for another two boats a few nautical miles away. As they draw closer, the crew realise that they are two Libyan fishing boats. There won't be another rescue. There's no emergency.

What happens after a rescue? The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome is in contact with all the search and rescue vessels to share out the rescues as sensibly as possible, depending on the vessels’ location and maximum capacity. It coordinates the transfer of passengers to vessels with more space and, when a rescue vessel is full, it gives instructions to head for an Italian port, usually on the island of Sicily.

Today, Dignity I is to receive a number of people rescued from other boats. Most of the new passengers are from the Aquarius, another MSF search and rescue ship. Dozens of people from across Africa, dressed in dry white overalls are transferred to Dignity I. There are pregnant women, young children and minors travelling without family members. People are on the stern, the upper deck and even on the bridge. Dignity I is now transporting 451 people: it’s full.

Despite the heat, most people are sleeping. They left Libya early in the morning, not knowing what would happen, and now they feel safe, possibly for the first time in a long time. They know that their next destination is Italy. They can rest now. Libya is behind them. Forever.

“One day I’ll write about what I’ve seen on this journey,” says Abu Bakr, from Ivory Coast.

“It’s a part of our history. Our children must learn about it.”

“One day I’ll write about what I’ve seen on this journey,” says Abu Bakr. “It’s a part of our history. Our children must learn about it.” | Anna Surinyach