The Refugrants

The word does not exist yet, but perhaps we can begin to think of a new word that can describe the uncertain ones adrift.

They all sail in the same sea. Everyone sails on the same type of boat. Everyone is looking for a better life. They all run away from something.

Are they refugees or illegal migrants? The concept begins to dilute in the waters of the central Mediterranean Sea, when they appear in small makeshift wooden boats, with no much food, no much water, no much luck, but only hope.

"LAMPEDUSA, LAMPEDUSA!" They shout out the name of an island that they’re not quite sure which way it is.

Some, sail with small compasses of doubtful north, carrying only the hope to reach land; they do not ask for more than Lampedusa, not even Sicily, which is bigger, therefore, with "more land" so they can flee on any beach where the weak engines  of the boats can take them.

They leave Tunisia and are labeled "illegal migrants”, because they sail without a flag, without registration and most of them don’t have any ID documents. 

Some come well dressed, in designer clothes and carry trending mobile phones, they are often the ones who also carry large sums of money. Others, have no more than the few clothing they wear.

What is seen here is something new, different concepts are appearing, completely different people from those who simply flee from the dismembered countries and whom we have become accustomed to call refugees. 

Migrants and refugees; “they’re all in the same boat”. Everyone expects to arrive in Europe, some say they want to work, others, come to join the family they ensure already there and others, they say nothing, they just come.

The boats are bought by facilitators, men who usually make the crossing with them and return to give continuity to the business. Sometimes they pay more than 50,000 euros, for these small boats with improvised engines, sometimes adapted car engines that serve perfectly to lead them to the great lie of a better life in Europe.

If they pay, they go. The "tickets" can cost up to 3000 euros. Most of them must work for years to be able to leave the country.

The sea, seen from the sea, is immense and this Mediterranean, sometimes is so calm that the horizon line lets the sky and the sea blend, merging the world before us in an endless blue curtain. Just 360 degrees of blue and nothing.

Many boats are saw by the spotters on the bridge, but many of the signals come from above, sent by the plane that helps on the detection of these small vessels.

The coordinates received are immediately processed by the military vessel system and the course is taken until they reach the small boats with migrants. Sometimes, it takes more than one day to reach them. Interception is invariably done surgically.

Reaching these boats full of people, are always moments of tension; those are not people who want to be helped at the beginning, They prefer to reach Italian land by their own means. 

The communication between the authorities of the ship and those people, is always free of technology, shouts from the ship to the boat. When the captain of the Portuguese navy vessel ask them if they want to come on board. The answer is always "LAMPEDUSA, LAMPEDUSA". They pretend they don't speak any language other than the native. It comes to take hours, many hours, this negotiation and follow up. Nothing can be done in international waters. The military ship escort them to the limit of the Italian territorial waters where they will be able to take action in law enforcement or in rescue.

You can smell the adrenaline mixed with the diesel from the patrol engines when the marines boarding team comes out in the semi-rigid boat. Immediately, the small engines of migrant boats are turned off, that way, they hope to be saved instead of detained. This technique of shutting down engines and pretending a malfunction, was used by almost all intercepted ships. 

All the boats intercepted were towed to the Portuguese military vessel, where the operation was already in place for the reception.

Going on board was never done without distress. Suddenly everyone wanted to rise at the same time.

"First the children and the women!" Shouted the marines who handle the entire process and ensure the safety of everybody aboard.

They are grouped, searched, tracked by the on-board doctor, identified by the border service agents, and taken to the flight deck after receiving a blanket and bag meal.

There they will stay on the trip to an Italian port, where they will be delivered to the authorities on land and sent to the refugee centers, ready to receive and accommodate thousands of people.

No one knows for sure the destiny of these men, women and children, who appear adrift and are gathered and delivered to land.

The facilitators, men almost always easy to spot among the others, by the way they behave in the group, will soon be detained and repatriated under the agreement between the Italian and Tunisian authorities, which obliges air companies to reserve about 30 seats on weekly flights only for this purpose.

The others, will be documented and will be given a period of eight days to leave Italy. 

Where do these people go?

In this great lie, which is showing Europe as a destiny with the promise of a new and good life for these people who, in herd and in weakness, go to the sea, there are emotions difficult to verbalize; even so, it is worth trying to describe the smiles mixed with the anguish of the arrival on board. The shock of the military grey with the warm human reception, sketches traces of tranquility and demilitarises an action that has everything to be fearful at the beginning.

They feel saved, in the end, they feel saved. 

The initial mistrust vanishes and they begin to feel relief. They are men, women and children fleeing their shattered countries. They can do anything in order to survive, like going to an “almost” calm sea that tricks the meteorology in the "almost", because as soon as the wind rises, the one that seemed asleep, can grow in a few minutes up to eight meters in waves of death that does not let the statistics see those who perish in it, those who never arrive, and therefore, it is as if they had never left land. But they left and died without anyone knowing.

They die while this text is written and die while someone reads it.

No one can guarantee what will be the future of these people when they reach countries at the antipodes of their culture.

The extremist logic that does not accept these movements, would have much to feel yet to take for granted what it defends; In the same way, advocates of all human rights should try to better understand what is really emerging here to minimize this seemingly endless crisis.

It is in this ambiguity that they navigate, on the way to the greater lie, that is the illusion of freedom. The men and women of this portuguese military ship who help them, are only men and women with the certainty that more than any ideology, culture or politics; it’s always the people that counts, and as long as the solution is forever insoluble, salvation is for everyone.

From 9 October until 9 November this year, the ocean patrol vessel, Viana do Castelo, of the Portuguese Navy, was engaged in the Triton mission of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) for control, surveillance and combat to cross-border crime.

For a month, this military ship patrolled the Mediterranean Sea. Took more than half a thousand hours to do 5000 nautical miles in the area of operations, between Lampedusa and Tunisia, in search of these people who go to sea usually at dawn and sail for hours if they have the good fortune to hit the course, or days, if they lose the north.

From the beginning of 2017 until the end of October, more than 100 thousand migrants have been rescued.

Frontex confirms a number of deaths exceeding 240, during 2017.