Search and rescue in a sea of refugees
Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has been coming to the aid of sub-Saharan refugees trying to reach Europe from Libya by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Karlos Zurutuza witnessed seven rescues of nearly 1,000 people on board the "Dignity 1"
Rescue-ready: along with the Phoenix and the Argos, the "Dignity 1" makes up the rescue fleet MSF is running in the Mediterranean Sea throughout 2015. This 50-meter long vessel has brought aboard more than 5,000 people from the sea. Together, the three MSF ships have rescued 17,000 people. They operate in an area that stretches along an imaginary line 30 nautical miles off the coast of Libya
Lost at sea: an average rate to make the crossing on one of these rafts is around 500 euros ($567). Despite their apparent fragility, they are much more reliable than the majority of the boats used by smugglers. "These ones always float, but bigger boats often capsize and sink with people locked in the vessel's hold," 2nd Officer David Prados explained
"We made it!": the majority of the refugees aboard "Dignity 1" told DW that smugglers in Libya had said they'd be rescued "by a big boat" and taken to Italy. UNHCR recently reported that more than 300,000 refugees and migrants have used the dangerous sea route across the Mediterranean so far this year
Women and children first: Women and children make up around 10 to 15 percent of the passengers MSF rescues from each boat, and some of them are either pregnant or caring for babies. Accordingly, they get on board far more exhausted than their male counterparts, and many need special medical attention
Africa is on deck: unlike those crossing the Balkan Peninsula, an overwhelming majority of the refugees rescued off the Libyan coast are of sub-Saharan origin. Libya has turned into a main hub for migrants on their way to Europe, yet many are reportedly abused or killed in the North African country
Slave trade: "after they put me in a detention centre in Libya, the guards gave me a cell phone to call my family and tell them I'd be killed if they didn't pay a ransom. I was released. Those who can't pay are sold as slaves for construction work," Amin Jabi, a Senegalese refugee, admitted
The nightmare is over: many of the female refugees report sexual abuses at Libya's infamous detention centres. In addition to medical and psychological attention, the MSF crew offers AIDS testing on board. MSF member Laura Pasquero: "Most of them are traumatised, and those who dare to speak tell gruesome stories"
Insomnia: "I was caught at gunpoint in the outskirts of Tripoli by five men. They wanted to rape me, but I had my period. They got very angry, and they beat me until I fell unconscious. My husband paid for my trip, so I'll wait for him in Italy," Evelyn, a refugee from Nigeria, said
Europe full steam ahead: Since the "Dignity 1" is a relatively small and slow vessel, it normally remains in a stand-by position in the so-called "rescue zone" off the Libyan coast as it waits to transfer the refugees to a bigger boat bound for Italy. They usually disembark in Sicily or the nearby port of Reggio Calabria
High expectations: the majority of refugees ignore what will happen after they disembark. This group will be transferred to northern Italy where they'll be taken care of for a month. After that, many will try to work and send money back home, but the chances of finding a job are poor, and many will have to beg for a living