SOS Méditerranée is a European maritime and humanitarian organisation whose staff and volunteers work day and night on their ship, the Aquarius, to rescue those stranded in international waters between Italy and Libya. Founded by ordinary citizens in May 2015 in response to the increasing number of deaths of those attempting to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, it is stepping in to deliver essential assistance where the European Union is failing to.
Last week 629 people, including children and pregnant women, were rescued by the Aquarius in waters just off the coast of Libya. Both Italy and Malta then refused to allow the ship, one of only a few remaining independent search and rescue vessels still operating in the Central Mediterranean, to dock. Injured, exhausted passengers were forced to wait at sea during a political stand-off between the two countries until eventually Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez gave the boat permission to dock in Valencia. Just weeks before, the Aquarius had rescued 158 people from a dinghy in a similar location and been able to take them to Catania in Sicily. The serious physical and mental harm being inflicted upon these 629 human beings as a result of the stand-off was ignored completely by the politicians involved, and the small team of 12 aboard the Aquarius worked round the clock to provide life-saving support.
The Aquarius has welcomed more than 30,000 refugees aboard since operations began, including 2,350 so far in 2018. As well as the incredible danger they are placed in when forced to board rickety, overcrowded boats to cross the sea from Libya, these people fleeing their homes in unsafe countries such as Eritrea, Sudan and Nigeria often face violence, abuse and arbitrary detention in Libya itself, and are in need of intensive care by the time they board the Aquarius.
SOS Méditerranée teams really are saving lives in the ocean. Without their presence the already catastrophic death toll – which has exceeded 1000 so far in 2018 – would be even higher. We at Help Refugees are so happy to have recently partnered with them and have set up a fundraiser page to raise them funds here in the UK – please donate today to allow their amazing teams to continue their vital work.