I promised that shortly I was going to write about my ship job and what I was doing here…I am currently on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea somewhere off the coast of Libya. I work for SOS Méditerranée, a Franco-German NGO which, since February, has outfitted a secondhand merchant ship with a marine crew and a volunteer search-and-rescue squad, collaborated with two larger and more established medical NGOs to bring a medical team on board, launched a crowdfunding campaign and set off to rescue migrants lost in the Mediterranean.
How did this happen? Very quickly indeed. I arrived in Montreal on a Saturday. On a Monday I was perusing Facebook at the hostel and saw, in a Facebook group for women communications professionals interested in international affairs, a want ad for a communications officer on board ship. On Tuesday I had the guts to apply, on Wednesday morning I had an interview and on Wednesday evening I had my confirmation. On Thursday I ran around picking up things I needed, on Friday I was on the plane and on Saturday night I was on the ship. The following Tuesday we had our first rescue– a rubber boat with over 120 people and a transshipment (transfer of people from another less well-equipped boat to ours) with 250 more. Families with children, ambitious young men and women, people who had always lived desperate lives and people who had educations and jobs and families that they were forced to abandon when they lost everything in a jobs scam, an abusive marriage or an upsurge in sectarian violence. Many of them went to Libya to find work with the full intention of staying in North Africa, when all hell broke loose We take them on board, feed them, listen to them and make sure they get medical care and a safe place to sleep. In one case, our midwife and doctor even delivered a baby on board the ship (He came close to being named Aquarius but was eventually named after the captain).
On board ship, we try to stay away from politics, asylum bureaucracy and legalese. We know many of the passengers’ stories don’t fit the Geneva definition of a refugee or a protected person. But then again, some do. Some, we know, are in a gray area and will depend on the quality of the translation, the commitment of the government-appointed lawyer and the mental state of the claimants on any given day. We’re conscious of that, but we don’t care much about it. Our focus is on providing safe passage for human beings, wherever they come from and wherever they’re going. One of the young guys on the search and rescue team refers to his job simply as “giving some people a lift.” One of the images that sticks in my head from this whole journey is a nurse relieving a young man of his life jacket (which was probably a Chinese fake anyway). “You don’t need that anymore,” the nurse said. “You’re safe.”
Another image was of a thirty-something father from Cameroon climbing up the pilot ladder from the rescue boat to the deck. Someone handed him what we call a “welcome bag” which includes a warm gray blanket. He wrapped himself in the blanket and waited on the deck until someone handed him his four-year-old daughter. Soaking wet and silent, the girl buried her head into her father’s chest, like a sort of Pietà. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Please read more about our adventures in French, English, German or Italian here.