Since 25 February, a ship cruises off Libya: the Aquarius, a civil lifeboat. Her flanks are covered by large black letters, visible from afar on the water: SOS Méditerranée. This is the same name than the NGO chartering her. A European fledgling NGO, created in May 2015 by a German merchant navy captain. It has one goal: saving lives. A principle: independence from all governments and from the European Union.
Funding it are French, German and Italian citizens. Seafarers, engaged citizens, people moved by the refugees’ plight. Donations are multiple and often very modest. The Aquarius’ crew is equally eclectic: sailors from a dozen nationalities, some leased with the boat, others rescuers or medical staff, Médecins du Monde the first 3 months, and later Doctors Without Borders. During the first three months of her operations, from late February to mid May, the Aquarius has saved more than 1.500 people. The summer months still to come at the time of this report, with good weather favorable for departures and political conditions still chaotic in Libya, promise even more boat people. For refugees that are rescued by the Aquarius really are boat people. They left their country, south of the Sahara, to escape war or misery. They only seek one thing by embarking on these rafts made in China, not even seaworthy enough for playing in a pool: saving their lives.
Sporting black skin in Libya means being in hell. In our first report on the Aquarius, they all narrated the same suffering. Life on the razor’s edge, kidnappings, extortion, imprisonment in inhumane conditions, rapes, hunger, fear, shootings. Today Libya is still ruled by militias. The European Union supports the new national unity government, which is struggling to impose itself. The E.U. is ready to provide weapons and training. Not only to fight against the Islamic State but also to prevent the dinghies from leaving the Libyan beaches. Rescuing boat people of the Grande Bleue, listening to them, photographing them, realizing their suffering and showing their lives is allowing them to have their voices carried beyond the walls that Europe built. This is completely, fully, performing our job as citizens and journalists.