rescue boat

Yesterday a staggering 6,500 people were rescued in the southern Mediterranean. They may have been fleeing from conflict, persecution, conscription or extreme poverty. No one risks taking this perilously dangerous and frightening journey unless they are fleeing from something even worse.

The boats these people were travelling on were in a variety of states of disrepair – from old wooden fishing vessels to inflatable dinghies. The vast majority were dangerously overcrowded and filled with women and children.

The passengers will most likely harbour unimaginably terrible memories of the time they spent in Libya – a country which is incredibly dangerous.  They may have been held at gunpoint, imprisoned, traded like cattle between the traffickers. They may also have been assaulted – or sexually abused if they are a woman or a young boy. Their families may well have received phone calls to extort money while these loved ones screamed in pain.

The British Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement – the world’s largest humanitarian network. We are working along the migration trail to support refugees and vulnerable migrants.

man covers face with hands

At a time when the Italian Red Cross is playing a leading role in the response to the Italian Earthquake, they are also working tirelessly to support the needs of refugees in the Mediterranean and on the Italian mainland.

The Italian Red Cross, with support from the IFRC and the British Red Cross, is partnering with independent charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Together, we are providing search and rescue boats, the Responder and the Phoenix, which are working alongside the other international charities conducting search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean.

Irrespective of why people end up in rickety old boats in the sea, we are doing this because standing by and watching people drown is simply not an option.

Red Cross volunteer and child

Despite these efforts, this year alone 3,000 people have already drowned taking this journey. We know that these boats are not a solution to the migration crisis. But we also know that without them these people would surely drown.

Against the backdrop of numerous humanitarian crises across Africa – from Libya to the Central African Republic, Somalia to South Sudan – desperate circumstances will continue to force people to risk their lives on this journey.

We will continue to be there for them and we need your support to help us with this work.

If you can, please donate to our Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal.

Red Cross volunteer in front of lifeboat

This blog was written by Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross.

Photos | Yarda Nardi/Italian Red Cross.