A good friend of mine posted a comment on her FB page yesterday, in response to some of the disturbing comments, about the migrant and refugee crisis, left on another FB page: ‘I’m not mean but let them in will be the end of gsy it’s hard for locals to live now all most of them will do is go on the dole and get free houses let there govoment sort it out in stead of putting all the money they get in there pockets so they have a good life and there people go with OUT’ JB of the Channel Islands. My friend asked if I would comment, as my husband, photojournalist, Jason Florio, has recently been documenting the boat rescues for MOAS, onboard the Phoenix, in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya.
I saw your FB post earlier, S., and, yes, it makes me extremely sad, and aghast, that people can be so myopic and so grossly uninformed – to put it politely. And, I did think twice about posting this link from Migrant Report : ‘The Pictures That Need to Be Seen‘ (caution – the images are truly shocking and devastating). But, in light of some of the comments I read on the above mentioned FB page, I believe the images should be seen, if only to wake, shake, up some of the commentators.
As you know, S., Florio has been documenting, for MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), onboard the Phoenix, their boat rescue missions in the Mediterranean; thankfully, he didn’t witness this particular horrific incident, but some of his colleagues have – and it’s not the first time they have either. Before Florio began working with MOAS, I was horrified by the news reports… how the hell could parents be so irresponsible as to take their babies and small children – and, in some cases, send their 14 year son, completely alone – on such a dangerous and life-threatening journey?! It was completely beyond my comprehension. However, I have since watched numerous interviews Florio has recorded, post-rescue, onboard the Phoenix – with many migrants and refugees – and the consensus is that the majority (particularly those from Syria, for example) would have done anything not to leave their homes, their professions – many are lawyers, doctors, nurses – behind and/or risk the lives of their whole family, to venture into the complete unknown. But, when your life is in constant danger; you live under a brutal dictatorship; you are forced to join the National Service at any early age, for an indeterminate amount of time, paid very poorly – and not allowed to leave until you are too old to follow your life ambition to be i.e. a doctor (Google: Eritrea); your basic human rights are ignored (Google: Ethiopia); the list goes on – there is often little choice, other than to move on, to find a better life.
Is that so difficult to comprehend? Maybe so, for those of us lucky enough to have the freedom to sit comfortably each day, eating our three square meals, as we watch the 6 o’clock (mostly edited just so, so as not to offend – too much) news, from the safety of our homes, through the impenetrable barrier of a screen; without the perpetual worry of a bomb dropping on your home, or your children being fatally wounded by shrapnel, whilst out playing in the street… . Imagine that. And, yes, we can argue the fact that the countries where thousands, upon thousands are fleeing from (the numbers are staggering) need to address what is going on, the people smugglers need to be stopped, and so on… but all of this will take time, a long time, to even begin to put right. In the meantime, these thousands of people men – women, children, babies – are on a survival mission, and they need sanctuary now, after having left behind everything that is familiar to them; often taking little more than a memento of their home with them (such as a letter from loved one, a tattered copy of the Koran, protected by a plastic bag, a postage stamp, a local coin – all real things, that people have shown Florio, during interviews). And, don’t even get me started on what they have to go through, even before they pay thousands of dollars to get on one of those nowhere-near-seaworthy-enough-to-make-it-to-Italy-boats!, out of lawless Libya… this subject is well documented. Just check out more of the links on Migrant Report, and, in time, through some of the interviews Florio has conducted (just think rape – on both men and women – torture, kidnapping, imprisonment, starvation, forced unpaid labour), for a forthcoming documentary from MOAS.
The images of dead children are shocking beyond belief and have been condemned by many as ‘sensationalism’, ‘headline-grabbing‘, ‘emotive‘… . Yet, the reality is, is that this is happening on an almost daily basis, out there in the Mediterranean, and many of the people fleeing towards a ‘better life‘ are already aware of the immense dangers they face, and possible death. Again, how can we (us, the ones who watch the teatime news, as another tragedy at sea unfolds, from our comfortable armchairs) possibly comprehend what propels people to take their whole family, walk out their front door, with just the clothes that they are wearing, and – in many cases – walk across deserts, other countries, to take such unimaginable risks?
So, perhaps now it is time to take the kid gloves off and face the harsh reality, see those images close up… . After all, it’s nowhere near (nowhere near!) the utter wretchedness that many, many people are enduring every single day, in an attempt to find that better life.
Welcome to Europe!
Links – to become more informed:
MOAS_EU – also, this is where you can donate to help keep the ‘Phoenix’ rescue boat in the Med., for as long as it’s needed.
Another taster of some of the remarkable work by MOAS‘ Phoenix crew (and various documentarians – through video and photography – including Jason Florio) – rescuing people in distress, from the Mediterranean Sea, as they endeavour to make the treacherous crossing, from Libya to Italy, on seriously overloaded fishing boats and dinghy’s,
Youtube: Night Rescue of boat migrants from West Africa – footage © MOAS_EU/Jason Florio, 2015. All rights reserved.
Foreign Policy: ‘Rare photographs document the rescue of hundreds of migrants‘ all images © MOAS_EU/Jason Florio, 2015. All rights reserved.
Knowing how much dedication and hard work the whole crew, and MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres) – along with photojournalist, Jason Florio – had put into yet another successful mission, I was honoured, to be able to watch, from the vantage point of one of Malta’s ancient ‘Three Cities’, Birgu, as the Phoenix glided into the Grand Harbour, yesterday.
The MOAS owned vessel (migrant offshore aid station) was returning from Sicily, after disembarking, for the fourth time in their three week mission, another boat full of rescued migrants. from the Bouri oil fields area – which lie about 40km off the coast of Libya, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Then, a quick dash through the back streets of Malta (thanks to Charlie, the MOAS driver, whose Maltese style of driving invariably brings the the contents of my stomach up to my throat!) towards the Bezzina Boat Yard , to catch the Phoenix as it docked, and the crew disembarking, smiles, laughter – and a few tears – happy to be welcomed by family and friends. And, perhaps with some relief, to have a little respite from the exhaustive, and often emotionally-charged, rescues of hundreds of men, women, children, and babies – many of whom, openly sharing their hellacious experiences of war, persecution, rape, abduction, and extortion. And, then, to be pushed out to sea – for many, their first time ever on open water – in battered, old, wooden fishing boats, originally made to hold a small crew of fishermen, not the 400 plus people, crammed onto (and below the decks of) most of them.