Thousands Of Migrants Trying To Reach Italy Rescued From Mediterranean

Apr 18, 2017
Originally published on April 18, 2017 9:39 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Rescuers pulled more than 8,000 migrants out of the Mediterranean Sea near Libya this weekend, and among them, a 2-week-old baby. One of the groups helping was a charity called the Migrant Offshore Aid Station. Its crew loaded people onto the decks of their rescue ship, the Phoenix. The charity's founder, American Christopher Catrambone, is at sea off the west coast of Malta and joins us. Thanks so much for getting on the line. We appreciate it.

CHRISTOPHER CATRAMBONE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So you rescued a 2-week-old baby and her mother. Can you just tell me what happened?

CATRAMBONE: Well, ever since Good Friday, we have been involved in probably our biggest rescue of our three-year history. Four-hundred-and-sixty-three people, including 170 women and children, are currently on board Phoenix as we sail towards Sicily. Thirteen of them are pregnant women, and actually four of them are nine months pregnant.

GREENE: Wow.

CATRAMBONE: So the 2-week-old baby was just a shock to see come off this boat. And I guess what was even a bigger shock was when we recovered the body of an 8-year-old boy. It just really tore the crew up to see such a young child having lost his life at sea.

GREENE: Yeah, I can't even imagine the emotions of doing that. Why are we seeing a surge right now? You said you're seeing records, and we've heard about this surge of African migrants who are trying to reach Europe. Why now?

CATRAMBONE: You know, it's been increasing. I mean, the people on board that we have now are Syrians, Somalians, Sudanese, Ethiopians. I mean, these are refugees that are fleeing conflict in their countries. And, you know, many people think that this is all migrants, but in fact, it - you know, this is people that are fleeing bombs being dropped on them and have no alternative except to seek this sea option.

And it's something that has been going on, I mean, in the Mediterranean for 20 years. It - Libya has always been this gateway to Europe. And now more than ever, the lawless state that it's become is just amplifying the ability for human traffickers to exploit this chaos.

GREENE: Let me just ask a question about that, if I can. I mean, the European border authorities say organizations like yours actually might be encouraging those traffickers and migrants because they know that they'll get out there, and a boat like yours will come to their rescue. Can you respond to that for me?

CATRAMBONE: Yeah, I mean, the fact of the matter is that when Mare Nostrum, which was the Italian rescue mission, ceased its operations, people kept coming. And the fact is that human traffickers, they have no conscience about these people dying. And they will continue to send them either way, whether they live or die. And I think that this, you know, pull factor has been disproven countless times.

And what we're seeing is a political positioning to try to put lifesavers as the bad guys. And that's absolutely not the case. Truly, the issue is coming from the failure of the EU to actually manage this crisis. Now, we've, you know, been advocating for safe and legal pathways for the past two years, getting people on flights instead of boats. But this issue is far from being resolved, and I think that people are seeing this.

GREENE: All right, Christopher, sadly I'm going to - we're out of time. I'm going to have to stop you there. But we really appreciate your time. That's Christopher Catrambone, founder of Migrant Offshore Air Station (ph) off the coast of Malta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.