Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) held a briefing on Wednesday on their search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea for refugees and migrants fleeing violence. During the briefing, MSF Coordinator aboard the Bourbon Argos rescue ship, Lindis Hurum gave a hair-raising account of her experience aboard vessels, often filled with over 650 asylum seekers making the impossible trek to Europe.
Hurum and a team of MSF doctors would take the rubber boat out to sea toward the boat filled beyond its capacity and on the brink of sinking to provide medical aid to refugees making the fatal journey.
“Their first expression would be that of relief and often concern as many of them are not sure if they can trust us or not. Through an interpreter we’d identify ourselves and let them know that we have come to help them. Many of the asylum seekers have endured immense psychological trauma and some have even died due to fuel inhalation on the boat accompanied by the fatigue from the long, arduous journey. Mother’s hand over their infant babies and we’ve even had to assist pregnant women in labour on the boats,” Hurum explained.
Hurum echoed the sentiments of her South African counterpart, Dr Muhamed Dalwai who believes those hundreds who flee conflict deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Dalwai’s efforts on land in villages in Northern Syria has provided an on-the-ground observation of the impact caused by the civil war in those parts.
“During my time at a make-shift hospital in one of the villages we had around 400 amputees a month. One in four of those amputees were under the age of fifteen. We saw how the shrapnel from barrel bombs were blinding the children. But Syrians do not want to leave their homes, they are forced to,” Dalwai added.
The situation with refugees fleeing conflict in their home lands has reached new heights. According to MSF Humanitarian Adviser on Displacement, Aurélie Ponthieu Europe has woken up to the global displacement crisis which sees nearly 60 million people worldwide uprooted from their homes. The first refugees have crossed the Serbia-Croatian frontier, carving out a new route through Europe after Hungary sealed its borders.
“EU leaders need to know that when a country closes its borders to refugees, there is an immediate humanitarian crisis on the other side,” Ponthieu added.
For over 2,500 desperate people the Mediterranean Sea has become a mass grave in 2015 as more than 264,500 refugees and migrants have crossed its deadly waters in a desperate bid to survive. Since launching search and rescue operations aboard three ships in May, MSF teams have rescued 15,699 people.
Ponthieu further explains that the displacement crisis is the worst of its kind since World War 2.
Dalwai has called on South Africans to continue supporting MSF with donations so their medical teams can continue providing “independent, impartial and neutral medical care” on the Mediterranean Sea for people fleeing violence.
MSF has also extended their call to world leaders for immediate intervention. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)