In The Mediterranean, Dramatic Rescues Are 'Extremely Emotional'
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
At least 40 more migrants died at sea this weekend trying to reach Europe. They were overcome by exhaust fumes in the hold of their boat as it crossed the Mediterranean from Libya toward Italy. The Italian navy rescued more than 300 other people from that vessel. We heard a first-hand account of such rescue operations from Lindis Hurum. She's an emergency coordinator for MSF, or Doctors Without Borders. And we reached her aboard the Bourbon Argos as it cruised the Mediterranean looking for boats in distress.
LINDIS HURUM: The last rescue we did was particularly difficult and dramatic. We came across a large fishing boat, completely overcrowded. It looked like it could capsize at any moment. Fortunately, we managed to rescue everyone, and it didn't capsize. And 613 people were safely rescued onboard our ship and also a second MSF boat.
MARTIN: And what condition are these folks in when you get them?
HURUM: They are all dehydrated often. They are afraid. And once they are safe on board, we can have extreme scenes of joy, of exhaustion. People can start crying or singing. And it's a very intense and emotional moment, both for the people rescued but for the MSF team.
MARTIN: What kind of conversations do you end up having with these people? I mean, you said they're very afraid. They can be very fearful in that moment.
HURUM: The first conversation is very basic. Just stay calm. Trust me. You're going to be rescued. And then, once they are on the ship, the understanding of the two days with several hundred people because it takes about 48 hours to go back to Italy. And we really connect with a lot of these people. And it becomes very clear to me that they are people, just like me. And they're not numbers. They're not statistics. They're not even refugees or migrants at that point. They're just human beings.
MARTIN: Do you ever arrive at a scene too late? By the time you get there, has a boat capsized, and it was too late to rescue people?
HURUM: Yes, unfortunately. One time, we arrived to a riverboat with 112 people on board. And five people were already dead. They had died a few hours before, actually, because the heat and sun. They didn't have any water. And these five people actually died of dehydration. We had three children who lost their mother and two other children who lost their father. And one of the other people on the boat were a preacher. And he did a prayer and we had a minute of silence. It's extremely emotional because these people have been through so many horrible things. And they decide that to go on this ship is their last hope. And then they end up losing their mother or their father and it's impossible to imagine the grief and the sorrow that these people then have.
MARTIN: The boat that you're on, the ship has been doing search and rescue operations since May. How have you seen things change? Are you seeing fewer boats, more boats?
HURUM: We're seeing more boats in August. But if you look back on years before, that follows the trends of the other years because in August, the sea is normally very calm.
MARTIN: So what do you see as the most critical need right now - just more search and rescue boat, more crews like yours?
HURUM: Yes, we see a need for more rescue boats to make sure that we save these people's lives. That's obviously not the solution to this problem. We believe that the solution is to have safe and legal routes to travel to Europe and then seek asylum in that way. And as long as that's not possible, these people will continue getting into these boats.
MARTIN: Lindis Hurum is an emergency coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres. She joined us from the rescue vessel the Bourbon Argos on the Mediterranean Sea. Thank you so much for talking with us.
HURUM: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.