They were asking me if this was really Italy

Before Open Arms docked at the port in Messina yesterday evening, 15 January, our doctor Giorgio had been working on the ship with its crew and keeping us up to date every day on the state of the migrants on board. We had rescued more than 100 people from the Mediterranean in two boatloads and were looking for a safe port at which to land them.

The migrants rescued from the first rickety boat by the crew of Open Arms told them they had run out of fuel and could not go on. They had left Libya two days before and would otherwise have been left stranded in the middle of the sea.

On board Open Arms, they trade stories alongside glances of hope. Giorgio tells us about a baby boy, just two years old, saved from a drifting dinghy. When the rescuers brought him on board he was in a critical state.

Over the days at sea, both the adults and children became increasingly uncomfortable and stressed.

Then one day the captain’s announcement came: ‘We’re landing in Italy. We’ve got a safe port.’

‘At that moment,’ Giorgio wrote to us, ‘a party literally broke out.’

Their worries and discomfort gave way to sheer joy. Migrants and crew sang, danced and hollered on the deck.

Yesterday morning, the migrants woke up, cast their eyes to the horizon and saw the majestic silhouette of Mount Etna rising up before them.

A few hours before they landed in Messina, our doctor says, ‘They were looking awestruck at the volcano, asking me if this was really Italy.’

Some of them had been travelling for more than a year.

Families, young people, children and pregnant women could finally set foot on dry land, and hope to begin a new life, far away from violence, poverty and prejudice.

That is their right, as it is for any other human being.

Emergency UK

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