What do you carry with you?

Little treasures, most prized possessions

15 May 2024

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been carrying out search and rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean Sea since 2015. Three years ago, in May 2021, the MSF team started to operate on the rescue vessel, Geo Barents, on which already over 11,300 people were rescued. And with them, as many lives, stories and memories.

But when people are forced to flee their home and leave everything behind in search of protection and safety, what is the sole belonging they would carry with them?

Survivors on board Geo Barents share the stories and memories which lie behind some of their most prized possessions. Often preciously carried all the way from their country of origin, these little treasures symbolize important moments of their life or remind them of someone. They are imbued with deep meaning and emotional weight. Whether a photo, a necklace or a notebook, those objects bring them joy, give them strength and connect them to who they are.

Dilba, 30 years old, from Syria

I have photographs of my husband, my children, my siblings, my best friends, etc. Even this one which is the one that was on my university student card. The one that is the most precious to me is the one of my father, who passed away. I carry all these photographs with me to keep the memories alive. With the war in Syria, everyone went to a different place. Some of my friends went to Norway, others to the Netherlands, some stayed in Damascus, I went to Kobanî. I had to quit university, leave my neighborhood, my friends, the place I grew up in. The war dispersed us and even though I haven’t seen them for years, with the photographs, their memories stay.”

Dilba was rescued by MSF on 5th of February 2024 while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded wooden boat in distress with about 130 other people. 

Precious, 27 years old, from Nigeria

“I was scared of losing my SIM card, it contains the phone numbers of my family and loved ones. I protected it during the toughest moments of the journey; it’s the only link I have left with the people I left behind in my country. In Libya during the detention, I hid it in my T-shirt’s seams, and it worked, they did not find it. I still have it with me, and I am very grateful for that.” 

Precious left her country in January 2022 due to the increase of violence and instable political situation. She spent 10 months in Libya, where she faced violence and detention. She was rescued by MSF in the middle of the night on 15th of October 2023 from an overcrowded rubber boat. It was her fourth sea crossing attempt to reach Europe.

Amer*, 31 years old, from Syria

At some stages of my life, when I was suffering and about to give up and surrender, these little items gave me hope. They reminded me why I moved to look for a better future for me and my girlfriend, who is waiting for me in my home country. These items carry a huge amount of memories and meaning. It was hard to carry them all the way and across borders to ensure they didn’t get ruined. I carried them when I crossed the desert and walked through valleys. I was ready to let go of the clothes I had but didn’t want to lose these. The wooden piece has been damaged because of the heat and humidity, but I will fix it. My girlfriend gave me this notebook because I love writing poetry and literature.” 

Amer* and his brother Khalil*, 26 years old, were living in Damascus in Syria until 2021, where they left for Libya to attempt crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Amer* and Khalil* were rescued by MSF on the 30th of November 2023 from a fiberglass boat in distress.  


*Names were changed as per the survivors’ requests. 

Khadijah, 35 years old from Morocco, used to live in Libya

“The bags are precious for me, they contain various traditional herbs and plants (lavender, celery, clove, cress) that were prepared by my grandmother. We use them in Morocco to treat the hair and skin, and some of them to help the digestion. I have nothing left that would connect me to my family, especially my grandmother, except this. When we were on the boat, I didn’t care about losing my documents, but I didn’t want to lose the bags. 

Khadijah used to work as a waitress during weddings in Libya. She lost her first husband and parents in a bombing in Libya. After this and several other violent incidents, she finally decided to leave the country. Khadija, her second husband and their daughters tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in July 2023, but they were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and imprisoned in a detention centre.  Khadijah’s family was rescued by MSF on the 30th of November 2023 from a fiberglass boat in distress.

Hamid, 27 years old, from Pakistan

“The ring and necklace I have with me are gifts from my two brothers. Having them with me makes me feel connected to my family wherever I am. When I put them on, I feel I am talking to my brothers, as if I could see them.During my stay in Libya, I didn’t wear the ring or necklace because I know they will be stripped away from me. But when I arrived on Geo Barents, the first thing I did was to put them on because here, it’s a trustworthy place.” 

Hamid is from the Punjab region, in Pakistan. He left his country in 2022, travelling first to Dubai, then Egypt and Libya. In Libya, he was working in a gas station before he attempted the sea crossing. Hamid was rescued by MSF, along with over 50 other people, on the 17th of November 2023 from a wooden boat in distress.  

Madrid, 28 years old, from Syria

“My husband, Moataz, and I met each other a long time ago. He gifted me this watch when we first fell in love. Later on we got married, and since then, I haven’t stopped wearing it. I took the watch with me when we went to Libya, despite I was afraid to lose it or that it would get stolen. For me it was so important to have it because this watch symbolizes his love for me. When I was in the detention centre in Libya, I had a skin allergy, but I kept it on. I wear it whether I’m asleep, washing or whatever I do, because this watch connects me strongly to him.” 

On the 5th of February 2024, Madrid embarked with her husband, their son and her mother-in-law on an unseaworthy wooden boat from the Libyan shores in an attempt to reach Europe. About 15 hours later, the four of them were rescued by MSF, alongside another 130 people, in the middle of the Central Mediterranean. 

Mohammad, 33 years old, from Syria

“This hat means a lot to me. It’s not a traditional hat but still it’s a beautiful one. I have it since I left Syria two years ago; it was given to me by my mother, and she told me to keep it with me. It has been my companion across the whole journey, even in detention. When I was detained in Libya, I used this hat to cover my eyes and sleep, so that I wouldn’t see the over-crowdedness and circumstances under which people were living. If I were to lose it, no other hat could replace it.” 

On 5th of February 2024, MSF teams rescued 134 people in distress from an overcrowded wooden boat in the Central Mediterranean. Mohammad was one of them.

Zeyad, 24 years old, from Egypt

"Scorpion, for me, has a special character. He is unique, like a lion or an eagle. The person who gave me this ring is also unique and special to me. The ring gave me a lot of hope. Not luck, but hope and strength when I was hopeless, when all the doors were shut. I will never leave this ring, even if I get married, I will put the wedding ring on another finger."

Zeyad was rescued by MSF on 1st of May 2024 from a wooden boat in distress that departed from the Libyan shores. He left Egypt two years ago and this was his second time to try to cross the Central Mediterranean.