man suffers panic attack on board the Responder

As the Responder search and rescue ship docks in Augusta, Sicily, a young man collapses, shaking.

Brunella Pirozzi, the doctor in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies team checks him. It’s a panic attack. The team leads him to a seat and stays with him until he calms down a little. Bit by bit, the 22-year-old unclenches his fists and begins counting on his fingers.

“My two brothers. My mother. Killed in front of my eyes. Then they came for my sister.”

He pulls the neck of his shirt down to show a red scar.

“They stabbed me when I tried to stop them from taking her. I played dead so they didn’t kill me too.”

After fleeing for his life, the young man pays traffickers in Libya for a place on a boat to Europe. Just outside Libyan coastal waters, his boat is intercepted by the joint Red Cross and MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) operation.

His boat would never have made it to Europe. There’s not enough fuel on board, no navigation, no captain, no water.

For two days and two nights, the young man waits to see land again. Once the Responder docks in Italy, the past floods back. His green eyes fill with tears and horror at what he’s survived.

“I have no idea if my sister is alive. I have no one left in Libya. In Europe there’s an aunt. Her number starts 33.”

We tell him 33 is the country code for France. After we dock, the Italian Red Cross can help him contact his aunt. Perhaps she’s his only living relative.

man calmed after panic attack

Already this year, over 3,000 people have drowned in the southern Mediterranean.

Under a partnership between the Red Cross and Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), the Responder, along with its sister craft, the Phoenix, have been patrolling these perilous waters.

Since August this year alone, our boats have brought over 5,400 people to safety.

As well as search and rescue, these ships are providing first aid, medical care, food, water, dry clothes and blankets to people in desperate need.

Photos by Kenny Karpov/MOAS.