MSF: October, a 'merciless' month in the Mediterranean Sea

Monday, November 7, 2016 — Dear media colleague,

October was a ‘merciless’ month according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) search and rescue teams working in the Mediterranean Sea to help hundreds of distressed people still seeking safe passage and after discovering the bodies of many drowned at sea.

With a record 4,200 people dead or missing so far in 2016 in the Mediterranean Sea, MSF once again calls on the European Union and its member states to reverse their deterrence policies against refugees and migrants arriving at their borders to avert the these unnecessary deaths.

“Rather than focusing on deterrence measures and externalisation agreements, Europe should invest much more in reception according to EU standards and develop an approach designed to address the medical, humanitarian and protection needs of people arriving at its borders,” says Nicholas Papachrysostomou, coordinator aboard the Dignity I search and rescue boat. “They must respect the right of people to seek asylum and they must realise that it is urgent to start putting in place mechanisms for legal and safe passage.”

MSF believes that nobody deserves to die anonymously at sea or to risk their lives in search of refuge when undertaking perilous journeys in flimsy boats.

Since April 21, 2016, when MSF’s search and rescue operations restarted our teams on board the Dignity IBourbon Argos and Aquarius   have rescued a total of 18,000 people.  

Thousands of people from Liberia, Mali, and Nigeria among others have risked their lives since last year, fleeing conflict, poverty and instability. 

Today we share with you:

  • A first person account by Nicholas Papachrysostomou, coordinator of the Dignity I boat
  • A photo gallery by Mohammad Ghannam depicting moments lived on board the Dignity I during October. 

Stay in touch as very soon we’ll bring you news of an MSF Southern Africa fieldworker from Cape Town, who recently started working on one of the rescue vessels.

Angela & Seipati


About Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Doctors Without Borders/MSF is an independent international medical humanitarian organisation working to bring emergency medical care to people caught in conflict, crises and disasters in more than 65 countries around the world including South Africa. We rely on the regular generous donations from individual donors to support our work.

To support MSF’s work:

A member of the crew holds a little boy on 16 October. A large number of the rescued people are minors. They often sit along with the mothers in the middle of the flimsy boats, so if a crack appears they are in the most vulnerable position. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
A member of the crew holds a little boy on 16 October. A large number of the rescued people are minors. They often sit along with the mothers in the middle of the flimsy boats, so if a crack appears they are in the most vulnerable position. Photohgrapher: Mohammad Ghannam
A visibly malnourished man from Somalia who was rescued by the Dignity I in early October rests inside the boat. <br/><br/>The most intense moments for this MSF ship were at the beginning and at the end of the month. October turned out to be the most appalling month of the year, partially because of the deteriorating weather conditions with the onset of winter, bringing gales and big waves. More than 4,200 people have died or gone missing so far in 2016 in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. This is a record since statistics began to be registered, and there are still two months to go till the end of the year. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
A young Somalian boy, who did not respond to our medical team because he was in shock after the rescue. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
MSF’s three boats (Aquarius, Bourbon Argos and Dignity I) have rescued over 17,000 people this year and about 333,000 people in total have arrived by sea to Europe. Each and every one of these people has a face and a story of hardship: some are fleeing war, others face different kinds of discrimination, violence and persecution, or a scarcity of resources. Their journey of suffering begins in countries that range from as far as Pakistan, where conflict has become chronic, to places in the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa such as Nigeria, Eritrea or Somalia, and a Middle East ravaged by years of tension and instability. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
Me holding Nora - 8 years old from Nigeria - just before embarking Dignity I. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
Rescued people preparing to disembark in Italy on 5 October. Many of the people who risk their lives through the Central Mediterranean route also have a nightmarish stop in Libya where, according to interviews with hundreds of people conducted by our medical teams, many suffer detention, sexual violence and torture. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
When the team goes on a rescue, the first step is to distribute life jackets. On 3 October, MSF carried out a rescue in collaboration with an Irish warship. When we eventually got there, we realised that some people had been in the water for quite some time. Some of them had already inhaled fuel and drunk a lot of sea water. A 34-year-old pregnant woman from Nigeria died after we failed to reanimate her. In the midst of the busy rescue operation, there were six bodies in the water that couldn’t be recovered. These people died anonymously. A mother lost her two children. She had tried to secure them, but the boat cracked and broke and she found herself in the water, unable to hold onto them anymore. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam