Brendan Woodhouse‘s time with Seawatch is over for now, and he’s back in the UK. This is his final diary entry of his time saving lives in the Mediterannean:
“I’m done now.
I’m coming home.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been part of a crew of simply outstanding people. For me they’re the best in society. When the world collapses around you, there will be those that pick up the pieces. I’m immeasurably proud to be one of the Seawatch team doing just that.
In our mission I was part of a 15 strong crew, who in turn, were part of a small navy of civilian rescue teams. We all worked closely together, and often alongside military ships. Thousands were saved as a result. My team alone were responsible for spotting dozens of boats and we were directly involved in the rescue of over 6,500 people from all over Africa and Asia.
We sadly looked over 16 dead souls in our endeavours and witnessed first hand the suffering that is continuing in the Mediterranean Sea. Numbers are irrelevant in this though, as our founder Harald pointed out, if we saved just one life, the mission is a success. Each individual is important.
My resounding memory of this is that I have seen resolve and determination in staggering quantities. The people coming, the survivors, are incredible. I’ve seen in their eyes complete joy and celebration, yet despair and terror. I’ve listened to their stories depicting the most heinous of crimes against humanity. Torture, rape, enslavement, exploitation, intimidation, forced conscription, hostage taking and systemic humiliation are stories that are all too common. And they have the pictures and scars to prove it too.
Make no mistake that their suffering is real.
Their journeys are beyond belief. I met people who walked across the Sahara desert to get to Libya before they came. They spoke about the dead in the sand, the missing women, the children that were stolen, the kidnappings, the torture. But they made it! Some have been traveling for just a couple of months and some have been travelling for over a year. Some have waited in refugee camps for years before they came and some left as soon as their lives were put in danger. Each story is different and individual, and clearly to me the vast majority of them are absolutely factual.
I get asked why there are so many men in the groups, but the answers are so plain to me. I suppose that you’d have to see it to believe it though, but oh my god. Let me tell you some things:
The women that I met were often pregnant. It was common that they had been separated from their loved ones and that they didn’t begin their journeys alone or pregnant. Most have been raped. It’s no exaggeration. And the babies that they carry will be a lifelong reminder of their ordeals. They’ve been sold, gang raped, beaten, tortured and more at the hands of the utterly evil. Many many more are simply missing. But you just wouldn’t believe their resolve. They sing. Despite their ordeals they sang gospel songs to us. That’s right, gospel songs. They’re not all Muslims coming to invade…! A large number of Christians are fleeing Boko Haram and other groups of horrendous individuals. Not that their religions matter to me at all, but it was nice to see people holding onto their beliefs as a mechanism for dealing with what life has given them. And I loved their singing.
Still wonder why there are more men than women?
Many are also fleeing compulsary military service…kill or be killed. Many of the young Eritreans boys leave before thier life-long conscription begins.
I’m amazed by the courage shown by the survivors. About 100,000 people have made it to Italy so far this year. Over 3000 (that we know of) have died in the sea. They all know the risks. But what we don’t know is how many have not been found. For we find most boats in the search and rescue zone. But how many don’t get spotted? They’re not included in the official figures of the dead. Nor are the ones who died on land before they came, in the Sahara desert, or in sexual trafficking shops in Libya etc.
The suffering that I can taste in the words that they speak sickens me. Their resolve empowers me. All of my problems are small. All of the problems that I have ever had in my life are fully in perspective. The survivors of this journey have taught me how incredibly lucky I am. How lucky nearly all of us are…
So hug your kids, tell them that you love them. Ring your parents or go see them. Tell your partner how much they mean to you! Go on, do it!
I’m finishing this now with a message to Seawatch and my crew. It was a privilege to work with you all. I look forward to working with you again. I’m always here if you need to talk.
Photo credit usually to Fabian Melber