Aid groups rescue over 1,600 migrants in the Mediterranean in a single day

The World
Updated on
Save the Children workers rescue migrants on a boat in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya

More than 50,000 migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year. It's a deadly journey but many survive thanks partly to all the seaborne humanitarian personnel patrolling these waters.

They saved more than 1,600 migrants in the Mediterranean on May 23 alone.

Save the Children took aboard 635 migrants from different boats that needed help after launching from Libya — the organization's biggest single-day rescue since it started patrolling the Mediterranean in August 2016, reported The World's Richard Hall from aboard Save the Children's Vos Hestia ship. 

Mediterranean migrant rescue map
“It began at around 6 a.m. Everyone was asleep in their bunks, and we were awoken by the captain, who told us that we were about 10 minutes away from a boat that was in distress,” Hall says. It took about an hour to rescue more than 70 people on that boat. Moments later, Vos Hestia's captain spotted about 10 other boats in need of help.

They were in a common search-and-rescue zone, about 13 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.

On the same day, another team with the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders or MSF (for Médicins Sans Frontières) said they took 1,004 migrants aboard their rescue ship.

On Friday, Save the Children's Vos Hestia docked in southern Italy's Corigliano Calabro, a port right in the arch of the boot.

But MSF had trouble docking "due to the security restrictions imposed in Sicily for the G-7."

By Monday, MSF said, after "an extremely difficult few days," it was finally able to disembark its overloaded ship in Naples.

Of migrants arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean this year, the largest numbers have come from Nigeria, followed by Bangladesh, Guinea, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Eritrea, Pakistan and Somalia, according to the United Nations.

The nongovernmental organizations have earned public praise for their work. But some groups have also come under scrutiny in Italy — and they’ve also had trouble with the Libyan coast guard. Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and other groups accuse Libyan officials of harassing them and migrants in need of help.

Related: Libya’s coast guard is ‘endangering lives’ of migrants trying to reach Europe

The dangers of the journey are severe. On Wednesday, the day after those record rescues, more than 30 people died at sea — "most are toddlers," according to Chris Catrambone, the founder of rescue group MOAS. 

Even though the number of migrants boating to Europe has declined from the record 2016 total, more than 1,500 have died or gone missing in the attempt so far this year.

The World's correspondent went aboard the Vos Hestia earlier this month to follow Save the Children as it carried out rescue operations on the Mediterranean. You can listen to his reporting from the voyage on The World, and watch it unfold here, and via the show's Instagram feed.

Here are some of his latest Instagram posts below.

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