Amena has asthma and a hole in her heart. She desperately needed treatment but her family couldn’t afford it in Syria.
They moved to Libya, but finding little work and under constant threat from violence, Amena’s father, Fadi decided to make the perilous journey to Italy with five-year-old Amena, eight-year-old Samer and their mother, Rima. It was a journey that put them at the mercy of ruthless smugglers and the Mediterranean Sea.
Once on board dangerously overcrowded boat, the engine failed and the oxygen Amena needed to breathe ran out.
Now you can read Fadi’s account of his family’s frightening ordeal:
Deciding to flee – an impossible decision
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I couldn’t sleep, day or night…I kept worrying. If something happens at sea, would God forgive me? Would the children forgive me? They made us pay a high price for fewer people on the boat [but that was a lie].”
A waiting game
The smugglers told them they would be leaving the next day, so Fadi prepared his family for the journey.
“Then he said it wasn’t going to happen that day. I had already given up the house, the furniture. We had nowhere to go. Once they got their money, they couldn’t care less about us. Finally he rang me.”
“The [smugglers] let us take the oxygen tank for Amena… the only thing they let us take. They stole our mobile phones. You couldn’t argue with them as they were armed…
“When we got to the beach, my son started crying and made me and my daughter cry. He said: ‘Dad where are we going?’ I said: ‘We’re going on a short journey in the sea’.”
A terrifying crossing
Fadi was worried about how many people were crammed on to the boat and Amena’s condition was deteriorating quickly.
“I was taking them to their death. The waves would go high and hit the boat. Every time the boat hit the waves, I would think that was it, our end.”
The “journey of death”
“We were in the sea for 9-10 hours. A helicopter flew above us three to four times, then left. Less than half an hour later we saw Save the Children’s ship. I felt happy; I cried and hugged the children. I thanked God that we had made it. Then we saw these kind lovely faces [of the rescuers].
“I will never forget it – the journey of death.”
Lifesaving medical care
The doctors had to work quickly to save Amena – another hour without help and she may not have survived.
“They saw Amena with the oxygen. They took her first with another young girl who wasn’t well. When they distributed the life jackets, I quickly put on one and went on the Zodiac.
“The doctor told me it was important that they take Amena to hospital. They put her on a helicopter [with her mum] and took her.”
It felt like forever for Fadi, who was desperate to be reunited with his wife and daughter.
“We stayed on the ship for two days. We got to Italy and on the third day, they took me to the hospital.
“They told me – thank God – that she was fine. Now I feel on top of the world. That’s how I feel. She was ill and now we are reunited, thank God.”
Amena and Samer’s future
Safe from immediate danger, the family can finally think about their future:
“I would like to start a new life. Forget the past. Forget the war, the worries, and mostly this journey by sea.
“I hope to work and earn money – give my children a good education, have a better life, and be safe.
“Children need to develop and learn how to read and write. Children want to play and be free.
“How can we thank you? I can’t say more than thank you and God bless you.”
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Names changed to protect identities.