After MOAS’ 2017 mission launched on April 1st, I went again on board the Phoenix to participate in the SAR operations in the Central Mediterranean. This time a dear friend of ours is on board too, Father Regamy from Cologne, who together with the local community has been supporting MOAS’ activities. The Cologne Cathedral has even displayed a wooden boat as a symbol of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in the Mediterranean Sea, to raise awareness about MOAS’ mission to rescue those who attempt the crossing under awful conditions.

After coming on board on April 12th, the following day we received a call from the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre to approach a dinghy in distress.

From that moment the crew on board started planning all activities to be ready as soon as the dinghy was within their reach. Nevertheless, we couldn’t spot the rubber boat and we had to wait until the morning of the 14th to start the first rescue operation.

The rubber boat was in real distress and 134 people were jam-packed in it, including 10 women, one of them 3-months pregnant. We had to react as fast as possible, but luckily life jackets were distributed without problems, despite rough seas. The people we rescued were then transferred to an Italian Coast Guard vessel, allowing us to keep on patrolling the SAR area.

After standard medical checks and emergency post-rescue treatment, the atmosphere is more relaxed. We distribute water, food and clothes to those in need and we spend time with those rescued to listen to their stories.

© Darrin Zammit Lupi/MOAS

No matter how many rescues I experience there is always an unforgettable moment, a moment which seems a miracle to me.

It’s when we help migrants to come on board the Phoenix. That simple gesture of offering our helping hand to them resurrects our humankind. As soon as they arrive on board, they are safe and it is like being born again.

After the horrific journey marked by abuse and violence, for the first time these people are with someone willing to help them without asking for something in return. For the first time after too long they are not terrified and do not fear being killed or abused. Someone is finally taking care of them, of their wounds and health. Someone is using gentle words with them and they are treated as human beings, not as objects to sell or prisoners for ransom.

Easter time, with its message of rebirth and resurrection, is a perfect metaphor of what I personally feel while helping them to come on board the Phoenix. The beginning of a new life far from violence and death.

It is now our fourth mission on the Central Mediterranean route. The situation is only getting worse, and we would prefer not to be forced to assist overcrowded rubber boats; but we cannot stop our SAR activities.

By putting an end to our SAR mission, we would condemn to death thousands of our brothers and sisters fleeing wars and persecution. These are innocent people searching for peace and security far from their own countries that are unable to grant them this security. Further, they lack safe and legal alternatives to the deadly journey from Libya. In this respect we are strongly committed to opening #SafeAndLegalRoutes which would prevent these fatal journeys by providing regular means of travel to groups of people who have been previously assessed.

Ending our SAR mission would also mean betraying the Easter message of re-birth and resurrection. This year, we are going to celebrate Easter on board the Phoenix with Father Regamy, who on Sunday will remind us of the mystery of resurrection from death, as well as the return to life.