People's Newsroom

The journey of Sadia from Benin to Europe risks all crossing the Mediterranean

Would see her brave migration route

It was dark when Sadia*, 25, climbed from the Libyan beach into the little grey inflatable dinghy, together with her three small children, one night in April 2022. As the first to board, they sat at the bow, while the others squeezed in around them. Men straddled the dinghy’s sides, each with one leg dangling in the water.

Libyan Search and Rescue Region, 23 April 2022, Sadia* (centre) and her children play with her phone on the deck of the Geo Barents. There is no cell signal or internet onboard for survivors, so they are unable to make phone calls.
On the day of her rescue, Sadia, centre, and her children play with her phone on the deck of the Geo Barents. There is no mobile signal or internet on board for survivors, so they are unable to make phone calls [Lexie Harrison-Cripps/Al Jazeera]

Of the 101 passengers, seven were women and 44 were minors, 40 of whom were unaccompanied.

Sadia and her family had traveled from Benin in a bid to reach Europe. However, for this final leg of the journey, she would go alone with her children. She’d had to leave Agidigbi*, her husband – and love – behind.

As the boat headed north, each second putting more distance between her and Agidigbi, Sadia searched in vain for her bag containing water and food. The realization that it was lost was her last memory on board the dinghy as she succumbed to the waves of nausea and vomiting from severe seasickness while drifting in and out of consciousness.

Sadia and her children are among the 25,164 irregular sea border crossings registered by Frontex, the European Border Agency, between North Africa and Italy in the first half of this year, 23 percent more than in the first six months of 2021. With the increase in attempts has come to a corresponding rise in deaths, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Women make up a very small percentage of people who attempt this dangerous journey. Only 6 percent of the people who arrived in Italy by sea this year were adult women, reported the UNHCR.

Many of these crossings ended in fatalities, including 30 people who went missing in June 2022 from a partially sinking boat in the Mediterranean. A non-governmental search and rescue ship, the Geo Barents, operated by Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF) arrived on the scene and was able to rescue 71 people, although a pregnant woman died despite attempts to resuscitate her.

Libyan Search and Rescue Region in the Mediterranean Sea, 23 April 2022, Nejma Banks (far right), Gabriel Bouza (right) and Leo Southall (in red) help Sadia* onto their rescue boat from her dinghy where she can be transferred to the search and rescue ship, the Geo Barents, seen in the background.
In the Mediterranean Sea near Libya, Nejma Banks, far right, and two other rescuers help Sadia onto their rescue boat from her dinghy where she can be transferred to the Geo Barents [Lexie Harrison-Cripps/Al Jazeera]

Women, strong and calm

It was common for the smugglers and fellow passengers to direct women and children to sit in the middle of rubber boats or below deck on wooden boats. “This position seems safer from everyone’s perspective. They feel protected by the others surrounding them and less scared to fall in the water,” said Riccardo Gatti, one of MSF’s search and rescue coordinators onboard the Geo Barents.

However, as Gatti explained, this position can ultimately be more dangerous as they are far from a possible escape route, and could get trapped if the crowd panics. “The mix of seawater and fuel, generally running through the middle of the boat can also lead to chemical burns and asphyxiation,” he said.

Back to top button