Not Waving but Drowning


Last September a ship left a small Mediterranean port with 500 people on board. Each had paid $2,000 for the trip. Later that day the ship sunk. Amongst the passengers was a 19 year old girl and her fiancé. This is her story:

‘My fiancé let go of my hand. We had to let go of each other’s hands because we were underwater . . . I was floating, unconscious. Somebody was talking to me but I was unable to answer. It was my fiancé, trying to wake me. He left me for a moment and then came back with an inflatable ring – one for children. He blew it up and gave it to me. I put it on and fell back in the water…

Later, an old gentleman swam over to me. He gave me a baby, bless her, and told me he was entrusting me with the life of his granddaughter. ‘The rest of the family is dead,’ he told me, ‘and I can’t last much longer’. I told him to give her to me and I cuddled her in the water as her grandfather died.

My fiancé was with me when I took the baby, he was beside me. But then he started to struggle too . . . He was thirsty and tired. On Wednesday morning he began to hallucinate. He became tired and I watched as his soul started to depart. I was trying to comfort him but he couldn’t . . . but he couldn’t . . . . Above all what destroyed me was watching Bassem die.’

19 year old Doha was given another child to look after by its dying mother. The desire to protect these children, she said, was what gave her the strength to survive. By the time they were rescued there were only 11 people left alive.

Had these shipwrecked passengers been European holidaymakers, like the 32 who died on the Costa Concordia in 2012, we would all be familiar with this story. But they were refugees from Syria and Gaza.

In October the British government axed their support for search and rescue in the Mediterranean when the Italian mission Mare Nostrum – which had saved more than 150,000 people from drowning in 12 months – came to an end.

We hear a lot about European civilization and our ‘Christian’ values. We have fought wars in Libya and Iraq in the name of democracy, equality, human rights. Now, as people try and flee the regional mayhem we have left in our wake, it turns out that some humans are more equal than others.

You can see the Channel 4 broadcast here.

December 3rd 2014.

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