“We waited every day to die.” Why we’re launching a ship

Save the children worker in Italy
Our Cultural Mediator, Aman, watches a ferry leave the docks in Lampedusa, Italy.

More than 3,000 people are thought to have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year.

And the number of children arriving in Italy has gone up by two thirds.

Clearly, the horror hasn’t stopped.

That’s why today we’ve announced that we’re launching a rescue ship to save children’s lives.

You can donate to help us launch the ship here.

The situation

Most of the children who come to Italy by sea do so alone – more than 90% of them. Lots of them are fleeing violence, persecution and threats to their lives.

Packed into crowded boats and dinghies that can’t stand the strain and cast off from the north African coast, children are facing days at sea, often without life jackets, parched with thirst but soaked in sea water, tormented by the fear that they may never reach land.

Too many people – one in every thirty-seven crossing from north Africa to Italy – never make it.

But that’s just an estimate. Because the bodies of drowned children are seldom recovered – quickly disappearing below the waves.

Children’s stories

I’ve spoken to children who’ve made it across the water.

A 17-year-old boy told me how the overcrowded dinghy he was on started to sink, so everyone threw what little they had brought over the side.

He said that at that moment, with the water rising around him, he was most concerned about the women and younger children crammed in alongside him.

When Feben, a 16-year-old girl from Eritrea, reached Italy she told my colleague: “The worst part of the entire journey was the boat. It was a question of life or death.

“The men were below, but the women were above on the deck in the cold. We were waiting every day to die. We were praying, confessing, it’s all you can do.”

Launching our ship

We’ve worked at Italian ports for nearly a decade, helping keep lone children safe when they arrive on land.

But now we’re extending our operations to stop people drowning.

We’re aiming to launch our ship in early September.

Our experienced team will scour the Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa to rescue children and families adrift in the water.

A young boy arrives in Europe distressed.
A young boy who has just survived a three-mile journey across sea to Europe.

What we’ll have on board

We’ll provide water, food, emergency healthcare and a safe space where children can rest, play and begin to recover from their terrifying experience.

The team will include a paramedic, a doctor, a nurse and specialists who can give children the psychological support they need to cope with their traumatic experiences and start to be children again.

We aim to reach up to 20,000 people at risk of drowning over the next 15 months.

Saving children before it’s too late

It could be today, or it could be tomorrow. But there will be more shipwrecks.

I check the news constantly and watch my inbox for updates from our team in Italy, always hoping to find nothing but fearing the worst.

And of course by the time I do it’s too late. It’s another tragic epitaph.

Now we’ll have a team on the water, scanning the horizon rather than the breaking news.

Under the co-ordination and direction of the Italian Coastguard our life-saving ship will be heading towards children before it’s too late.

Children are children, first and foremost.

Whatever children are fleeing from, they have the right to be safe. And we have an obligation to protect them, whether they’re here in Europe already, or during their dangerous and deadly journey.

While the root causes of this crisis are complex, our response is simple: stop children drowning.

When disaster strikes, we’ve always done whatever it takes to reach every last child that needs us.

We’re already there for child refugees all along the routes they take into Europe. We’re in countries torn apart by violence like Nigeria and Syria; in transit countries like Greece and Italy; and in destination countries like Germany and the UK.

Now, with your help, we’ll be there for them at the most perilous point of their journey.

Because the Mediterranean cannot continue to be a mass unmarked grave for children.

Please donate now to help us get the ship in the water.

Names changed to protect identities.

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