Refugee crisis: MSF ships carry out 11 rescues in 36 hours

10 Jun 2016
Related Countries
Southern Europe

Around 1,300 people have been rescued from boats adrift in the central Mediterranean by MSF search and rescue ships in the space of just 36 hours.

On 8 and 9 June, MSF teams on board the three ships were involved in a total of 11 rescues. More than one-third of those rescued were women and children (314 women and 171 children and unaccompanied minors).

"Some of those rescued needed immediate emergency medical care,” says Irene Paola Martino, MSF medical team leader on board the Bourbon Argos.

“During this latest search and rescue operation, we had to take urgent action to treat one woman who might otherwise have suffered irreversible brain damage or even died. For those forced to cross the Mediterranean in these conditions, failing to get emergency medical assistance can be fatal.

“In situations like these, you realise that your presence can make a real difference. Only 24 hours after the rescue, seeing our patient recognising us moved me deeply.”

MSF communications officer Alva White is currently aboard the Aquarius, one of three ships on which we are operating.

Read Alva's blog to find out more about life at sea with MSF


Woman in critical condition

MSF’s medical teams on board mainly treated people for dehydration, fuel burns, hypothermia and skin diseases. A quick medical response can help prevent people suffering further medical complications, especially women and children, who are often the most vulnerable.

Of the 362 people rescued by MSF’s Bourbon Argos ship, 57 were women and two were children. One woman experienced a severe hypertensive crisis while sitting on the deck of the boat, which was awash with fuel and seawater.

In critical condition, she was winched up on a stretcher from the boat in distress to the MSF ship, where she was stabilised by the medical team.

“On one rubber boat, there were more women than men”

Of the 702 people rescued by MSF ship Dignity I from six rubber dinghies, 366 were men, 225 were women, 22 were children under 14, and 89 were unaccompanied minors.

“Over these two days, 38 percent of the people we rescued were women – which is much higher than in recent weeks,” says Astrid Borjeson, MSF medical team leader on board Dignity I.

“On one rubber boat, there were even more women than men, something we have never seen so far. The women’s vulnerability is higher: they arrive exhausted and frightened.

“Many are travelling alone or with their children. They tell us what they suffered during their journey and in Libya: abuse, sexual violence, detention, forced labour. European countries should give them and their children specific protection.”


In the latest episode of Everyday Emergency, MSF doctor Simon Bryant recounts his time spent on a search and rescue ship in the Mediterranean last summer.

Find out more about MSF’s search and rescue operations