Children and pregnant women among 300 rescued in the Med

Refugees and migrants had been rescued from flimsy boats and spent three days at sea.

Our life-saving search and rescue ship, the Vos Hestia, has brought 300 refugees and migrants safely to Italian shores in its first Mediterranean rescue mission of 2017.

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.

Transferred to our rescue ship from the Luventia, they had been rescued from flimsy rubber boats or directly from the water more than 24 hours before in rough seas.

Some pregnant women suffering from dehydration and exhaustion were too weak to stand. They were stretchered onto the ship, where our medical team provided immediate treatment.

Saving lives at sea

Dan Stewart reports form onboard the ship.

The group were one of multiple rescues in the Mediterranean over the weekend. An estimated 8,000 refugees and migrants were pulled from close to 60 inadequate boats from Friday to Sunday.

The Vos Hestia, a 62-metre rescue vessel, will be operational from April until November with the aim of saving lives at sea.

It has facilities to rescue and accommodate around 300 people at a time.

Our team onboard will provide medical assistance, food and water, protect vulnerable children and support refugees and migrants to reach safety.

The most dangerous stretch

The Luventa approaches the Vos Hestia, its deck packed with people.

The ship will operate under the coordination of the Italian Coast Guard on the route to Italy.

This is widely seen as the most dangerous stretch of sea in the Mediterranean. Children are ten times more likely to perish here than on the route between Turkey and Greece.

The number of children attempting the dangerous central Mediterranean route to Italy increased by 76% in 2016, and the number of lone children more than doubled.

Since the start of 2017, an estimated 4,500 children arrived in Italy through the Mediterranean, of which almost 90% were unaccompanied.

This year, 878 people have already lost their lives attempting the crossing.

Conflict, poverty, persecution

Our medical team treat exhausted and dehydrated pregnant women in our onboard clinic.

Save the Children has worked at Italian ports for nearly a decade, helping to keep children safe when they arrive on land.

Now, we believe the urgency of the situation requires us to take additional measures. Rob MacGillivray, Director of Operations for the Vos Hestia, said:

“Conflict, poverty, persecution, and the impact of climate change are all driving children from their homes, only for them to drown in European waters.

“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.”

Horrific experiences

Refugees are transferred from the crowded Luventia to the Vos Hestia.

The needs of migrants and refugees do not end when they are plucked from the water.

On arrival in Italy, they need food, shelter, legal information, health services and protection from traffickers.

Many migrants have been through horrific experiences. Starvation and abuse at the hands of gangs, long journeys on foot through the desert, rape and torture.

Unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable. Many report having been beaten, tortured and sexually abused during their journeys.

Children risking everything

We work along the major routes that refugees take and in the countries they are fleeing. Our teams are supporting children in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, where where war has ripped apart the lives of millions.

In countries that child refugees pass through, such as Serbia, Greece and Italy, we provide food, warm clothes and psychosocial care.

Our aim is to ensure that children they are protected wherever possible during their long and dangerous journeys.

With brutal conflict ravaging swathes of the Middle East and 60 million people on the move worldwide, the refugee crisis shows no signs of abating.

Until it does, children will continue to risk everything in the search for safety and better futures.

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