Hundreds Of Refugees Die In Recent Mediterranean Shipwrecks
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The images of desperate people trying to reach Europe seem relentless and in the past week, especially tragic. The International Organization for Migration say that the past eight days in the Mediterranean have been one of the deadliest periods of the migration crisis with at least 1,000 people having lost their lives. We're going to speak now with Christopher Catrambone. He's an American philanthropist and the founder of Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a not-for-profit search-and-rescue organization operating in the Mediterranean. He joins us from Malta.
Welcome back to the program, Christopher.
CHRISTOPHER CATRAMBONE: Thank you. Good morning.
CHANG: Good morning. So I understand you have two search-and-rescue ships. One's called the Responder. The other's called the Phoenix. And you've brought both of them back to Malta. What are your plans for those ships?
CATRAMBONE: Well, both of them are sitting in Malta's Grand Harbour preparing for next week's launch of our operation. And our intention is to respond to this crisis that is becoming worse and worse every year. You know, this is our third year of operation. And this is our biggest deployment of ships and drones as of date.
And, you know, I think that all the help is needed out at sea at the moment simply because of the number of deaths that are happening and the number of bodies that the authorities and that other NGOs and other SAR groups are facing out there. There was a discussion yesterday that there's not even enough deck space to hold these dead bodies. And I think that if you just considered that point alone that - it's very alarming what's happening. The Mediterranean is, again, becoming a cemetery.
CHANG: And your group says it's rescued about 12,000 migrants in the Mediterranean. What sort of vessels are they trying to cross in?
CATRAMBONE: You know, it's important to start off and talk - and I think about the lawless state of Libya. And Libya's that really that hub that all these migrants kind of come and kind of emerge to because, you know, there is no rule of law. It's a lawless country and smugglers really take advantage of that by providing anything and everything. So you've got refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers that are paying anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to get on rubber boats packed to an extent where they can't even really stand up with a 25 horsepower engine. I mean, it is barely capable of getting a couple of miles before it's going to run and stall the engine.
So I think that the biggest issue with these boats is the amount of people that they pack inside. You know, they're literally packed in there like sardines. They can't even really move inside. And you also, you know, are at risk of dying of these fumes from the engines and the smoke that's coming out. There's multiple ways that it becomes a perilous crossing but most of all just the fact that these boats are in just such a terrible condition to begin with.
CHANG: And what kind of condition are these people in when they come aboard your ships?
CATRAMBONE: Well, we find them after a certain amount of time at sea. So usually they have been held in these pre-departure areas by human traffickers. And we have had a lot of women that were forcibly raped and abused, children that are unaccompanied, men that have gunshot wounds, have cuts. And obviously, they have been beaten. It's terrible conditions that they fall into the hands of smugglers in Libya. And I think that when we first rescue them that they are also still kind of a little bit shocked at that stage because they're not really sure what your intentions are, if you're the good guys or you're the bad guys.
CHANG: You know, some of these numbers are startling - 2,000 migrants arriving daily in Italy over the past week, more than 47,000 this year so far. The shelters are at capacity. When you take migrants on board your ship, where do you take them? What are their options?
CATRAMBONE: Well, you know, I think that those numbers are even underreported. I mean, we know that 2,000 people are arriving daily from, you know, who is actually arriving. But let me say that there is this area called the dead zone in the domestic waters. Now, when I say that that's 12 nautical miles off the coast of Libya. Now, this is where that the NGO ships, the search-and-rescue ships from the Navy, they do not patrol there. And so we don't even know how many people have died in this area. So, I mean, we are just starting to understand how many deaths are happening.
CHANG: Thank you so much for joining us.
CATRAMBONE: You're welcome.
CHANG: Christopher Catrambone is founder of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a nonprofit organization that rescues people trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.