Save the Children Brings 300 Refugees and Migrants to Safety as Search and Rescue Capacity in the Mediterranean Pushed to Breaking Point

Vos Hestia Easter Weekend 2017
Photo by Save the Children

Child Refugee Crisis Relief Fund

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (April 19, 2017) — Save the Children’s Search and Rescue ship, the VOS HESTIA, has carried out its first mission of 2017 bringing hundreds of refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean safely to Italian shores. The group was one of the multiple rescues over the weekend – where 8,000 refugees and migrants were pulled from close to 60 inadequate boats. The Vos Hestia is once again operating, in coordination with the Italian Coast Guard, on the route to Italy. The route is deemed the most dangerous stretch of the Mediterranean Sea - a child is 10 times more likely to die along this route than along the route from Turkey to Greece.

At least 30 women and around 20 children, thought to be unaccompanied, were among the rescued refugees and migrants, with the majority originating from sub Saharan Africa. They had been rescued from flimsy rubber boats or directly from the water more than 24 hours before in rough seas and said they were into their third day at sea. They are disembarking in Italy today.

Some pregnant women suffering from dehydration and exhaustion were too weak to stand. They were stretchered onto the ship and Save the Children’s medical team provided immediate treatment.

Save the Children estimates that so far in 2017, more than 4,500 children arrived in Italy through the Mediterranean, of which almost 4,000 were unaccompanied. This year 878 people have already lost their lives attempting the crossing. The number of children attempting the dangerous Central Mediterranean route to Italy increased by 76 percent in 2016, and the number of lone children more than doubled.

It is against this background of a significant and avoidable loss of life, that Save the Children performed its first rescue of 2017, on April 17. Around 300 people who had set off from Libya were transferred from another rescue ship, the Luventa, in international waters.

The Vos Hestia, a nearly 200-foot rescue vessel, will be operational from April until November with the aim of saving lives at sea, with facilities to rescue and accommodate around 300 people at a time. The vessel operates under an Italian flag and is subject to Italian law.

To improve conditions on board for those rescued we have made changes including to the layout and equipment in the health clinic and the addition of a roof to help protect people from the elements.

Save the Children will be providing medical assistance, meeting basic needs such as food and water, protecting vulnerable children, providing emotional support, and supporting refugees and migrants to reach safety.

Save the Children has worked at Italian ports for nearly a decade, helping to keep children safe when they arrive on land, and believes the urgency of the current situation requires us to take additional measures. The charity oversees humanitarian operations on the vessel while the Italian coastguard coordinates search and rescue operations in the area and directs the vessel towards refugees and migrants who need help.

"Children are children, first and foremost. Conflict, poverty, persecution, and the impacts of climate change are all driving children from their homes, only for them to drown in European waters," said Rob MacGillivray, Director of Operations for the Vos Hestia. "The root causes are complex and many but our response is simple: we must stop children drowning. The Mediterranean Sea cannot continue to be a mass unmarked grave for children. We have taken this decision to continue to intervene at sea because we are convinced there is a significant need for additional search-and-rescue operations."

Across the African continent, conflict, persecution and extreme poverty threaten children’s lives. With brutal conflict ravaging swathes of the Middle East and 60 million people on the move worldwide, the refugee crisis is the moral test of a generation which shows no signs of abating. Children will continue to risk everything in the search for safety and better futures.

At the same time, Save the Children is continuing to work along the major routes that refugees take and in the countries they are fleeing, such as Syria, where war has ripped apart the lives of millions, and Afghanistan and Iraq. In countries where children are passing through, like Serbia, Greece and Italy – we aim to ensure they are protected wherever possible. Working along these migration routes, we are providing food, warm clothes and psychosocial care to children travelling long and dangerous journeys, braving rough seas and cold temperatures. Many report having been beaten, tortured and sexually abused during their journey.

"Our work will start on board the rescue ship, identifying the most vulnerable and lone children and capturing their needs, providing healthcare and giving psychological first aid," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. "On land, children need proper reception centers where they can regain their childhood – somewhere they’re safe, protected, fed, educated and given access to psychological support. Only then will fewer children go missing in Europe and more children face a brighter future."

The needs of migrants and refugees do not end when they are plucked from the water. When they arrive in Italy, they need food, shelter, legal information, health services and protection from traffickers. Many migrants have had horrific experiences on the long journey to Italy – starvation and abuse at the hands of gangs, long journeys on foot through the desert, rape and torture. Unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable.

The Italian Parliament recently approved a specific law for the reception of unaccompanied children that Save the Children developed and proposed in 2013. This will guarantee an integrated and effective system across the country, with an accurate age assessment, appropriate standards for the reception facilities and children homes, legal and health assistance and support to their integration.

However, until the EU provides safe and legal ways to apply for asylum in countries of origin and transit, which ensure human rights and respect dignity, people will continue to risk their lives to reach the sanctuary of Europe. In addition, unless Europe is better able to account for and track children on the move, vulnerable children will continue to fall through the cracks of the existing system.

To support Save the Children’s efforts to help refugees and their families, visit: www.savethechildren.org/rescue-at-sea

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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