Via The Guardian, a horrifying report by MSF worker Chiara Montaldo in Pozzallo, Sicily: 'We see more and more unaccompanied children on migrant boats'. Excerpt:
Before last year, most of those making the journey across the Mediterranean were young men. But now they are people of all ages. Whole families arrive, with grandparents and young children. Last week there were two babies, one eight days old, the other four days old, both born in Libya just before the boat departed. The elderly people bring with them different medical problems, such as diabetes and hypertension. We are also seeing more and more unaccompanied children – usually teenagers from 13 upwards, making the journey without their parents.
The Syrians bring some possessions with them – a bag of clothes perhaps – but the migrants from Africa have often been travelling so long to get here that they arrive without anything, not even shoes.
When they disembark at the dock, the MSF team is there to greet them, alongside police and officials. Many migrants have experienced torture and violence at the hands of military men, so to be greeted by more men in uniform can be scary for people who already have so many reasons to be scared. That is why it is so important that we are there too.
MSF is a friendly and often familiar presence for many of them. One guy who arrived from Palestine recognised our logo from being treated at our clinic in Gaza. A woman who arrived from Egypt had worked for us in Cairo as a translator.
Landing is a dramatic moment, but it can be a positive one. They are tired and hungry, but at least they are alive. Many say how happy they are to be here.
After landing, the migrants come to the triage tent, where we screen them for tuberculosis and chronic diseases and find out about their medical condition. We are usually the first people they’ve talked to in Sicily. Often they ask, “Where are we?” and “What will happen now?”
In return we ask where they are from and how the journey went. The replies can be shocking. A 19-year-old Nigerian woman with chemical burns over her body told me how the hold of the boat in which she was travelling was awash with petrol mixed with salt water. Two people swallowed some by mistake and died; she didn’t know what had happened to their bodies.
I worried about how young she was, and what would happen to her next. We know that Nigerian women are frequently the victims of trafficking and are forced into prostitution. There are so many women travelling alone – we would like to do more to protect them. But we see them in the reception centre for a few days, and then they are transferred on and we lose them.