1,000 People

Diary of tribe member Brendan Woodhouse, working in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy:

“An incredibly busy day after a period of calm. We helped 1,000 people today and it started just before sunrise, spotting a rubber boat in the distance, we went to help straight away.

In case you don’t know, the boats in the Mediterranean route are usually rubber, but are larger and slightly more stable than the ones I saw in Greek waters. They’re also not landing on the beaches as we are rescuing them from the sea.

The boats have between 120 and 150 people on board and are incredibly packed. People sit on the tubes on the side of the boats but most are crammed inside. The vast majority of the people are without lifejackets (guessing at about 99%) and cannot swim. They generally travel with the only possessions that they have on their backs. Usually not even shoes. They have almost no chance of reaching land. The boats that don’t get found are likely to drown. That’s why our work is so important!

So our first job was to head out in our little boat and make contact with the refugees and start distributing lifejackets, but this reduces space further in the already packed boats. This was happening as the sun was rising.

We waited with the boat until another rescue team came and took over and we headed back to our big ship..Seawatch 2. I threw some scrambled eggs down my neck and we were quickly sent on to our next mission. A total of 8 rubber boats were in our vicinity and our team handed out hundreds of lifejackets. Working well with other organisations, a clear picture of the situation was developing…

In the end we were sent to a more urgent case as one of the rubber boats was deflating. We started to disembark the people almost immediately with our RHIB (small boat) doing the shuttle runs to the ship. As it was so time critical to get the people off the boat, we were assisted by Proactiva Open Arms, the legends of Lesvos. They joined in the shuttling of the people and soon they were all onboard the ship.

We then had the group of refugees on board for hours until they were passed on to the coastguard. I had the opportunity to spend some time talking with them. They seemed to be from all over Africa and there were some lovely people to meet. I spent a lot of time talking to a man from Nigeria who told me all about why he left. I didn’t ask, as I don’t believe in questioning people when they arrive in our care, but he started talking, so I started listening.

His business had been burned out, as had his home by gangs who wanted to strong arm him. The oil price globally has plummeted and the economic impact locally for him was severe. He told me the prices of fruit and rice in his area, and being honest, I couldn’t survive on such heavy demands. The local population is suffering badly as a result. He was beaten and threatened with death by a gang. And he spoke about the political situation there as one of being entirely corrupt. He showed me the scars of torture on his back.

Horrible.

Another young boy, only 16 years old (pictured), had had hot oil deliberately poured on him just a few days ago. He only spoke French, so information for me was difficult. He was on his own and as brave as could be. Our medical team worked on treating his wounds and it must have been so painful. He didn’t cry at all. Eventually he went to sleep using a cuddly toy, in the shape of a lamb, as a pillow.

We sang with some of the women and played with an 18 month old baby. I talked for about an hour about football with a group of guys. I converted some of them to support Newcastle, but I know that I’ve only made their suffering worse. Seriously though, the guys were brilliant and knew all the players. With one older guy trying to chip in by telling the rest about George Weah and Roger Miller. The rest of us said that it was a sign of his age and I felt young again even though he’s only a few years older than me. It was a real moment of distraction and happiness. Football is such a uniting thing to talk about. Like music. And we spent ages finding out what positions people all preferred and who their favourite players were. I loved every second!

The day ended late, with the rest of the crew hugging the group as they left. I’d fallen asleep as I had night watch later but I’m sad I missed saying goodbye.

I honestly think that this is one of the best feelings in the world though. To provide dignity, hope, comfort and laughter to these wonderful souls is a privilege that I’ll never forget.”

To donate to Brendan’s work, and the work of the rest of our Search and Rescue team:
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