Dream is Worth More Than Money

Stories from aboard

24 August 2023

For people we meet on board of the MSF Search and Rescue vessel Geo Barents, the quest for freedom, visions, and a better life is always tough and challenging. Over the past eight years, around 90,000 people were rescued and made it safely onboard of different MSF-run rescue vessels. This number is only a portion of those who decided to leave their homes, and embarked onto a dangerous and life-threatening adventure. Since 2015, there has been an estimated 837,000 attempted crossings, 570,000 people managed to reach safety to Europe, and 225,404 interceptions to people attempted to cross who taken back to Libya or Tunisia. 18,970 lives have disappeared at Sea. People who attempt to cross, present various motives and reasons, some unique and individual, yet all of them share the same path: the Central Mediterranean, as the bridge or a border between what some describe as hell and the future they want to live.

"You know that crossing the sea is very, very risky and we realize that. In Gambia, where I come from, the chances to be successful [in what you do] is minimal. I am a football player, and I will get old before I would be recognized [as a good player]. So I couldn’t achieve my dreams there. This is very important for human mentality: When you have a dream, it is worth more than money. Dream is worth more than anything is. That is why we chase our dreams [by coming] here," said A., an 18 year-old teenager.

Estimated figures according to the IOM say that at least 27,000 people either died or went missing in the Central Mediterranean, since 2014. Those are women, children and men who, lost their lives because of reckless European policies concerning migration. And again, this is only the estimated number, as no one will ever know how many boats capsized and lives went missing in the "world’s deadliest crossing", the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the people would embark boats in Libya or, lately, Tunisia, and try to sail to Lampedusa or other Italian territories.

"Sometimes, I even thought about ending my life. I just could not live like this anymore. I know people consuming drugs, drinking, smoking to cope with the stress. Some people even killed themselves," I. explained the conditions in Libya, while working under almost-slavery conditions, to save enough money to cross. Cwa is a Somalian 23 year-old woman, she told us why she and other people she met on the journey decided to take this step: "In Europe, we can begin [to live] our real lives. We can [finally] live in peace."

As of 2015, MSF conducted some 800 rescue operations, to save lives of people in distress at sea. During one of those rescues, in mid-July 2023, MSF teams rescued over 460 people from 12 boats, which were in distress. Majority of those people were from West African countries - such as Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Conakry, Benin, Ghana, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali - as well as from Somalia, Tunisia, Syria, Palestine, South Africa, and others.

Z. from Ghana explained his journey to the Central Mediterranean: "Police caught me twice in Libya. They beat me because they want money from me. During then, I didn't have any money [to give them]. I managed to escape. Then my friend told me to come to Tunisia, to try to cross to Europe by boat, and look for a better life. I had to walk for one week from Libya, via Zuwara to Ben Guardane in Tunisia, and then by car to Sfax. One week almost without any food or water."

After these 12 consecutive rescue operations were done, the Italian authorities have asked the team on Geo Barents to disembark 116 people in Lampedusa – a small Italian island close to Tunisia. Afterwards, the authorities instructed Geo Barents to disembark the remaining 346 survivors in two different ports - Marina Di Carrara and Livorno, both in northwest of Italy, with remarkable three-day sailing distance from where they were rescued. Recently, Italian authorities have adopted a new practice to send NGOs-run Search and Rescue vessels to far distant ports. According to the international maritime law, disembarkation of people rescued at sea should happen at the nearest safe port. Instead, the Italian authorities decided to prolong the suffering of people on board, without any rational reason, and keep rescue vessels such as Geo Barents away from operations in the SAR region.

"I lived in Libya, and that is not a good place to live, especially for a migrant. There, there is 50-50 change to either live or die. And on the boat - it's dangerous. We spent two days and two nights on the boat [before being rescued]. It was very dangerous," concluded Cwa.

Cwa perhaps gave the best reason why the Italian authorities should immediately change the practice of giving distant ports for disembarkation of survivors from NGO-run rescue vessels: Those people have already suffered enough, in their home countries, in route or in Libya or Tunisia. The Italian government should do whatever it takes to stop unreasonable and unnecessary harm caused by migration policies.

MSF has been running search and rescue (SAR) activities in the Central Mediterranean since 2015, working on eight different SAR vessels (alone or in partnership with other NGOs). Some of the above mentioned 12 rescues were done in support from Association Pilotes Volontaires' airplane Colibri 2, and Mare Go rescue vessel.

All names were changed to protect identity of people involved.