– Marc Reig, Captain of Open Arms Mission 78
The Mediterranean Sea has become an unmarked grave for thousand of migrants who drowned during their attempt to reach Europe, pushed by war, persecution and poverty.
Open Arms is a Spanish NGO that rescues asylum seekers in distress as they attempt the treacherous boat journey to Europe. Since its foundation in 2015, they have rescued over 60,000 refugees. But nothing prepared it for the events that unfolded on November 11th, 2020
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TITLE: Europe's Forgotten Graveyard
MY ROLE: Director / Cameraman / Writer
TIME OF YOUR LIFE REQUIRED: 23 min
KEYWORDS: #migration #openarms #unjustice #europe #NGO
Therefore, NGO’s like Open Arms stepped in to fill the gap left by politicians and institutions. But their work is ever more complicated as several EU member states began prosecuting rescue NGOs, accusing them of aiding human trafficking.
Only one rescue ship.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse for humanitarian ships, with countries closing their ports. As a result, at the time I boarded mission #78, Open Arms was the only rescue vessel operating in the Mediterranean.
The Open Arms is an emergency tow vessel of 37 metres in length, built in 1974, previously in service with Spain's maritime safety agency 'Salvamento Marítimo'. It was donated to the NGO in mid 2017.
The Search and Rescue (SAR) zones determine which country is responsible for bringing rescued people to the nearest safe port.
Asylum seekers rescued by Libyan authorities are returned to the country’s detention centres where many have been subjected to torture and abuse. Open Arms therefore patrols in the Maltese SAR zone, looking for boats in distress.
Inside, among personal belongings, a couple of rings, either wedding or engagement rings are found but nothing that allows to explain what might have happened.
A HALF SUNKEN WOODEN BOAT SPOTTED BY OPEN ARMS ON NOVEMBER 9TH 2020.
How Open Arms was born
In September 2015 life guard Oscar Camps daughter saw the picture of the dead body of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing the war. She asked her father why Proactiva —Oscar’s lifeguard company— wasn’t there to save little Alan.
A few weeks later, Oscar took the 15k euros of saving he had and flew to the Greek island of Lesbos with his colleague Gerard to help the thousands of people who arrived there by boat, fleeing war.
Open Arms was born.
As the days passes, none of the week’s alerts have led to a rescue, with the boats either having disappeared or been intercepted by the Libyan authorities. But 16 days into the mission, things started to change.
–– Marc Reig, Captain of Open Arms Mission 78.
The first target is a boat carrying 86 people. Minutes wasted can mean the difference between life and death so the two rescue boats, which can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour, are sent ahead of the mother ship to the boat in distress.
– Marc Reig, Captain of Open Arms Mission 78
The next morning, having had only two hours sleep, the rescue team heads out to find another boat in distress.
As the crew approaches, the boat erupts in cheers. Having spent more than 36 hours at sea, the migrants believe they are now safe.
Soon after distributing the life jackets and transboarding the first woman, the makeshift boat collapses, releasing all passengers into the sea. Many can't swim.
- Gerard, Lifeguard on Open Arms Mission #78
With 118 people in the water, the rescue team is overwhelmed. I joined this mission to witness and report, but now a tragedy is unfolding in front of me... and I'm part of it.
I have to drop the video camera to help getting people out of the water. A compact photo camera is hanging from my neck and I instinctively activate the video mode button. For 17 minutes, it will record the chaos of the rescue before it short circuited due to water splashing. The following images are stills from that terrorific footage.
This six-month-old baby was named Joseph and he came from Guinea Conakry. His body was recovered from the sea in respiratory arrest and the medical team managed to revive him at first. Hours later, however, he passed away.
That night, shortly after the rescue of another adrift boat with 64 people, 6 people were evacuated by an Italian Coast Guard helicopter.
A life-transforming experience.
This shooting has been by far the hardest, and most intense experience of my career but it's also been the most rewarding and meaningful one. The encounter with the rescued people but also with the entire crew of the Open Arms will stay with me forever .
The positive reception of the film gave a sense to all these efforts and made me think that the death of these 6 people hasn't been in vain.
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