(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Over 1,000 refugees were rescued from sinking boats just under 20 kilometers off the coast of Libya in a rescue mission that lasted more than three hours. Refugees were found on dinghies, and some were carrying as much as 160 people.
A Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) rescue boat was radioed by the Italian Coast Guard early Monday morning.
Of the 1,000 refugees were three babies. Marco Cauchi, the MOAS Onboard Operations Officer, said “Today it was intense for the fact the rubber boats were jam-packed… they put as many people as they can… they put in 160 people it was incredible.”
“These boats are built to only take 100 people. It was dangerously loaded,” he said. “People were jumping out, fumes were coming up, people were fainting, so it was horrible.”
The rescue operation began around 5:30am local time as small rescue boats were sent out to the boats carrying refugees. The rescue boats made their way in the dark to the refugee whose worn out boats had dim lighting.
When an MOAS rescue boat approaches the refugees they begin with handing out life jackets and reassuring the refugees that they will be saved from drowning. As life jackets were being passed around in the middle of the boat there were two babies held up by their parents for the rescuers to notice.
As the MOAS’s Responder boat got closer to the dinghy, refugees on board were shaken up and began to panic in fear of falling into the Mediterranean Sea. It was dark and many refugees were in weak condition and unable to swim.
In that moment of panic the dinghy partially capsized and close to 20 people fell off the dinghy into the open sea. An MOAS rescue team dived in to save those who fell, something they MOAS team said they only do in extreme situations. A number of the refugees panicked and held on to one rescuer who was overwhelmed and ended up swallowing toxins coming from the dinghy and began to lose consciousness.
Other rescuers came to his aid and he has now made a full recovery.
Later in the day, dead bodies were seen floating in the same area in the Mediterranean Sea. The bodies were brought on to the Responder and put in body bags.
More refugees were rescued on Monday and were taken by the Responder to Italy.
Upon arrival to Italy, refugees will be processed and will either be accepted as asylum seekers or rejected depending on where they are from. This process can take from months to years.