Migrant crisis: Life and death on a Spanish rescue boat in Mediterranean

Published
Related Topics

Juan Medina, a photojournalist with Reuters news agency, spent 29 days on board a rescue boat off Libya, documenting the search for those lost at sea.

Image source, Reuters

Open Arms is a retired 36m tugboat operated by the Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms. It patrols an area where hundreds of thousands of people have embarked on treacherous crossings to Europe in recent years.

Almost 1.8 million people have migrated across the Mediterranean from the Middle East and Africa since 2014, according to UN figures.

Image source, Reuters

A dramatic moment during Medina's time on board the Open Arms was the rescue of Josepha (seen below and at the top of the article). She was the only survivor plucked from a deflated rubber raft where the bodies of a woman and a four-year-old boy lay.

Image source, Reuters

Josepha was in a state of shock when she was taken aboard and treated by doctors on 17 July. She said she was from Cameroon and had spent the night clinging to the wreckage, singing hymns and calling to God.

Image source, Reuters

Ahmed, 38, seen below, was rescued with his 13-year-old son in early August.

Image source, Reuters

He told Medina that he and his son had travelled from Darfur, Sudan. In the Libyan city of Sabratah, west of Tripoli, they and others were kidnapped and held captive for seven days.

Managing to escape through a window they went to the town of Garabulli, about 130km (80 miles) to the east, and waited over five weeks to pay 2,000 dinars (£1,114, $1,438) each and got on a rubber boat.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ahmed (centre) prays on board the NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue boat

After sailing 15 hours the boat broke and they were adrift for three hours.

At night they saw light approaching. Ahmed told Medina: "There was a moment of great fear and nervousness because we did not see well and the worst thing that could happen is that the Libyan patrol arrived and forced us to return to that hell.

"But then we heard from one of the two fast speedboats that approached: 'We are friends, we are a Spanish rescue ship.' We began to shout with joy."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Head mission of Open Arms rescue boat Riccardo Gatti tracks the position of a rubber boat

Ahmed continued: "Some did not understand the message, perhaps because they do not speak English, and thought that one of the two boats was the Libyan coastguard and threw themselves into the water, preferring to risk drowning than return to Libya.

"Luckily we are all alive. We have a new opportunity."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Esam (left), 22, and Ahmed, 38, from Sudan, stand on board the Open Arms rescue boat

Medina photographed other migrants rescued from the sea by the Open Arms.

Chuol, 17, from Sudan, is seen below listening to music.

Image source, Reuters

Chuol takes a shower, below.

Image source, Reuters

Amjad, 23, from Sudan, sleeps on board the Open Arms, below.

Image source, Reuters

Mohamed, 23, also from Sudan, reads a book: An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees.

Image source, Reuters

Yuosef, 28, from Sudan, below, stands on the Open Arms and looks out at the sea.

Image source, Reuters

Photos by Juan Medina.

More on this story