tv Witness LINKTV January 10, 2022 9:00am-9:31am PST
■ún the diterranean, and when the sea is calm, it becomes europe's deadliest crossing. albert roma: sit down. sit down, everyone. eric: tens of thousands fleeing africa for a better life. male: you find god. you find solution, or you die. eric: italy wants to stop the boats, even if it costs lives. savvas kourepinis: i am in the sea trying to keep the people alive, and you tell me to call malta. eric: we join a rescue group saving boats in defiance of italy. so they see you as the enemy? gerard canals: absolutely, yes. eric: and we follow migrants on their perilous path to europe. ♪♪♪
oscar camps: [speaking in foreign language] eric: he was once a lifeguard patrolling the calm beaches of barcelona. now, his passion is using lifesaving skills on the open sea. he says open arms has rescued 62,000 people in the past 6 years. these days he's also fighting european governments trying to turn back the boats. oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: open arms would normally take out a big rescue ship, capable of saving hundds of people and taking them to the nearest port.
but in april, italy impounded the open arms ship to stop them helping migrants. in defiance, they're taking out this yacht. [speaking in foreign language] eric: called the astral, it's too small to rescue large numbers of people. the plan is to find boats in trouble and keep the passengers safe until emergency authorities arrive. gerard canals: [speaking in foreign language] eric: the head of mission is gerard canals. gerard: [speaking in foreign language] male: [speaking in foreign language] gerard: [speaking in foreign language] eric: once they worked closely with coastguards. announcer: together, we help protect eu's borders and make
europe a safer home for all of us. eric: but europe's border agency frontex has embraced australia's hard line against so-called boat people. this year, as crossings increased, italy not only impounded the open arms rescue ship, it seized the vessels of four other non-government rescue groups, or ngos, claiming they weren't fit to operate. gerard: they punish those who are helping people at sea. eric: so they see you as the enemy? gerard: absolutely. yes. they don't even share information about the targets. they prefer the boats to be lost at sea than tell us. it is the first rule of the sea: you have to help those in danger.
eric: gerard canals will lead rescues with two lifeguards, albert roma and irene romero. when they hear of migrants in distress, they'll use small speed boats to reach them. savvas: alpha, sierra, tango, romeo, alpha, lima. eric: the captain, savvas kourepinis, will try to persuade the coastguards to come to their aid. savvas: [speaking in foreign language] eric: well, it's going to take us three days to reach the search and rescue zone. and for now, as far as ngo rescue missions go, this boat is basically it for the entire central mediterranean the crew of eight will sail us around an area of more than a quarter of a million square kilometers to try to find and help people before they drown.
with almost no wind, the boat motors slowly toward the strait of sicily. the central mediterranean is divided into nominal search and rescue zones, though open arms claims every country is failing its legal obligations. our destination is the italian island of lampedusa, nautical miles from malta. it's the closest european landfall to libya, so it's where many of the migrant boats are heading. the crew monitors the emergency radio channel around the clock. boats use it to call for help. male: [speaking in foreign language] eric: the sea is eerily calm as we approach lampedusa.
it means the boats are coming. male: [speaking in foreign language] eric: soon, the astral picks up a distress call from a fisherman, and the first night of rescues begins. gerard: a fisherman seems to have found a refugee boat. he says they were children among the people that they found. we change our course, and now we are heading towards this position. it is difficult to find the boats, and the situation is more stressful because yo don't see anything. eric: in the inky darkness, e crew prepares to take out a speed boat. irene, your first rescue. how do you feel?
irene romero: i'll tell you later. eric: okay, good luck. irene: thank you. gerard: [speaking in foreign language] savvas: lampedusa radio, this is astral. eric: while the lifeguards search for the boat, the captain, savvas, tries to persuade the italians or the malte to mount a rescue. savvas: i don't understand you, sir. can you repeat, please? male: you are in the sar area of malta. do you call emergency malta to request the assistance, over? savvas: look, i received a distress, and i come to help. male: yes, okay, sir. i give you the number of emergency malta. savv: i havet. i have it. i called it, but nobody answer. albert: okay, okay, not good. eric: the rescue team finds a small wooden boat
packed solid with more than 50 people. albert: hey, stop standing, we need to go to you, so stop standing, please. how many children? how many children? [speaking in foreign language] sit down, please. hey, sit down, please. okay, sit down now. eric: they've come from the libyan port of zuwara and have no lights or provisions, and they're running low on fuel. albert: one by one. there's a lifejacket for everyone, so don't worry. eric: but the italians won't come, and the maltese won't even answer. male: try, you try this number: zero, zero, three, five. savvas: i'm in the sea, trying to keep the people alive,
and you say me to call malta? i have children on board. what i have to do? albert: don't stand up. sit down. male: the search and rescue area is the competence of emergency malta. i give you another number: six, two, two, one. savvas: i called you first, why don't you solve this problem? eric: the migrants have travelled from as far south as zimbabwe to start the journey from libya. were you scared to come across the ocean? female: no, it's fifty-fifty. eric: fifty-fifty. female: yes. eric: so you might live, or you might die? female: of course. eric: but you are prepared to risk your life to come here? female: of course, we are suffering. libya is a long story. [baby crying] eric: they've been on the water for 24 hours. and their wait has just begun.
male: astral, you have a line from emergency malta. eric: italy finally agrees to connect astral to the maltese emergency service by radio. male: hello, this is rescue coordination centre malta. go ahead. savvas: yes, i have one fishing boat position 35 degrees, 14.4 minute north. male: ah, yes. can you kindly send an email? savvas: okay. i send you one email right now. gerard: we are expecting the maltese authorities to coordinate the rescue force, but we are very close to lampedusa, just 13 nautical miles away. eric: looks like nobody wants them. gerard: no. that is what usually happens. they don't really want to take care of these people. on other occasions, we've seen how they delay to send boats to
rescue these people, and in the end, they capsize, and we have some casualties. one hour has passed, and we don't have any new informations. can you update us? male: i don't have news for you. email to malta emergency. gerard: sir, maltese authorities are not responding. i don't know what else should we do? male: you must wait for your response. gerard: yes, sir, we have been doing nothing but waiting. eric: close to dawn, with no response from malta, italy blinks. male: astral, astral, do you receive? italian coastguard, italian coastguard.
savvas: italian coastguard, italian coastguard, this is astral, astral. male: one hour and twenty minutes. savvas: yes, okay, rendezvous in one hour and twenty minutes. male: okay, perfect. see you. savvas: [speaking in foreign language] [boat horn blowing] eric: the italian coastguard capitulates and transfers the migrants to its rescue vessel. it's obliged by international law to rescue boats in distress, but the italian government is tryingel. to stop any boats getting this far. it's funding the libyan coastguard intercept boats and force them back. male: [speaking in foreign language]
male: [speaking in foreign language] male: they're shooting! female: yeah, they're shooting. eric: in july, a rescue ngo filmed a libyan coastguard ship firing at migrants who refused to stop. female: so-called libyan coastguard, what you do is very dangerous, over. male: look how close, look how close it will be. eric: the italians have provided libya with 16 ships. the eu border agency, frontex, even trains their crews. often people chancing this journey aren't just escaping war or poverty. increasingly, they're trying to escape libya itself, because tens of thousands who've tried to cross from there have been held in detention camps, often run by the militias.
a un report says they suffer unimaginable horrors: gang rapes, starvation, beatings, torture, even death. now, the un is very clear, it's illegal to send these migrants back to libya, but that is now the official policy of some european countries, pushing them back to what could be more unimaginable horrors. irene: what europe and the european union is doing to these people, it's disgusting, it's totally awful. it's something that we cannot admit. and i think as long as i can do something for them, i'm going to do it. eric: it's been a stressful first night for the rescuers. but any thoughts of resting are soon dispelled. the boats keep on coming. male: lampedusa? lampedusa? lampedusa. lampedusa.
eric: well, this is extraordinary. it's just three hours since the coastguard picked up the last boat. and out of nowhere, this boat has just appeared. the crew has had no sleep. moments later, another boat appears on the horizon. albert: hello. male: hello. male: how are you? albert: how many people? male: there are 73. albert: seventy-three. savvas: lampedusa radio, lampedusa radio, lampedusa radio, this is astral. albert: don't worry, man. don't worry, okay. sit down. everyone sit down. everyone sit down. sit down. everyone sit down, sit down. female: astral, astral, astral. lampedusa, lampedusa, lampedusa radio. do you read me, over?
savvas: lampedusa radio, i read you loud and clear. i have one wooden boat with more than 70 people on the deck. female: okay, we are going there, but stay here, so if we need, we can ask for your help. eric: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: oscar's passion was ignited by the syrian refugee crisis of 2015 when thousands drowned trying
to cross from turkey to greece. he flew to the island of lesbos with no equipment to see how he could help. as a lifeguard, he was shocked to see there was no coordinated rescue, just chaos. oscar: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: the millpond sea is proving a magnet for crossings; ever more boats competing for limited rescue resources. in the blur of constant rescues, one call cuts through. mohamed: bambino, bambino. baby, baby, it is no good.
come here, please. please help me, please. eric: the distress call is from a man called mohamed, who claims he's a fisherman. gerard: okay, okay, mohamed. we are very close to your position, very near you. eric: he says he's found a boat with nine people, including five children and a very sick baby. cristina esteban: [speaking in foreign language] eric: the crew's volunteer nurse, cristina esteban, sets up an emergency treatment post in the cabin. the prospect of a dying child shakes them all. cristina goes out with the crew to administer first aid.
they arrive to find a very different scene from the one described. cristina: [speaking in foreign language] cristina: [speaking in foreign language] eric: not only is the baby in good health, the boat is less crowded, the migrants have more provisions than any we've seen. it appears mohamed is not a fisherman but a smuggler, offering a fake emergency to guarantee pickup as part of the service. the crew escorts the boat to the coastguard. if they're angry at being played, they don't show it. eric: does it get frustrating when you get these very dramatic messages that may be just to make sure they get rescued?
gerard: no, it is much better. so i prefer to work for nothing instead of doing the opposite. eric: rescues like this fuel criticism that ngo boats act as a pull factor for migrants and traffickers. oscar: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: the figures back him up. so far this year, there's been a big rise in migrants crossing even while no ngos were operating. the difference was almost a thousand people drowned, more than twice the previous year. ♪♪♪
♪♪♪ eric: the wind picks up, and for the first time, the astral is in full sail. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ a storm is brewing down south. oscar camps worries what it might mean for small boats at sea. oscar: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: [speaking in foreign language] oscar: [speaking in foreign language] eric: we anchor off lampedusa to wait out the storm.
it's a chance for me to jump ship and see what life is like for migrants who make it to shore. ♪♪♪ the island is teeming with italian tourists, but the arrival of migrants is kept out of view of the public. they'll be transferred to detention camps on the main island of sicily for processing. almost all will apply for asylum; seven out of ten will be rejected.
in the capital of palermo, abdlay jatta has lived in limbo for five years. he left the grinding poverty of gambia to provide for his family, eventually reaching libya in search of work. abdlay jatta: my friends, [speaking in foreign language] more than three people. [speaking in foreign language] eric: he crossed the mediterranean by boat, but was denied residency and survives doing low-paid labour that italians won't do. so what would you tell young people now in gambia? would you tell them to try and make this trip to europe? abdlay: no. [speaking in foreign language]
just stay in gambia. [speaking in foreign language] eric: fellow gambian, batch mballow, also struggled as an undocumented worker. batch mballow: it's very difficult to live here without document. you have to get job before you get documents. and now, you don't get job because you don't have documents. you know, this is obviously, it's ridiculous. eric: but with the help of migrant advocates, batch has managed to enroll in a public college. so what are you studying now? batch: i'm studying nursing. yeah. when i finish my studies, i would like to go back to my country because they need people like us.
eric: both men despair at the number of people still risking their lives for an impossible dream. abdlay: [speaking in foreign language] abdlay: [speaking in foreign language] batch: when i saw the sea, there is things that i think about. the sea turned to be a graveyard because people like me, they wanted to come and study, they want to come and learn, but they lost their life. eric: italy's tough line has failed to stop migrants risking their lives.
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ savvas: lampedusa radio, we found the little boat. we found the little boat. eric: back on the astral, the crew comes across a group of youths and unaccompanied minors from tunisia, all hoping they're coming to a better world. three daysarlier, a presidential coup plunged their country into chaos. male: we have three children, and they're sick, sir. sir, the kids are sick. albert: [speaking in foreign language] sit down. hey, hey, the boat is moving. it's dangerous, okay. so sit down, everyone.
a boat is coming. male: wait here, sir? albert: yeah, you wait here. male: but sir, the children. the children is not good, are sick. albert: yeah, i know. i will be here. male: we stay with you? albert: yeah. male: very okay, sir. male: thank you very much. male: thank you, sir. albert: you're welcome, man. eric: in the full moon, the swell is rising. even after the crew attaches a lifebuoy, the boat is slowly sinking. albert: [speaking in foreign language] gerard: we see that the boat was very small, overcrowded and embarking water.
people was really in danger, so that's why we decide to take this action and put the life raft at sea. now we have these 17 people onboard this life raft. we're waiting for lampedusa and malta to take responsibility on this case. eric: well, it's 4:00 a.m., and we've been towing the life raft for about five hours now. as usual, the italian's have been saying, "call the maltese," and the maltese haven't been answering, not answering the radio, not taking phone calls, not replying to two emails. this is the search and rescue authority, it's bizarre. just before dawn, the italian coastguard finally arrives. after two weeks at sea, it is time for open arms to head home to resupply. on this 83rd mission, it's conducted 15 rescue operations, helping 398 migrants.
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