Monday, 26 September
We meet this morning at 9am to make the final decision about who is on the first boat. Apparently there are whispers that the Amal 2 may not be fit to sail yet, which means only 8 participants will sail tomorrow with 3 crew and 2 Al-Jazeera journalists to report live daily.
I am sitting in the meeting room and the intensity is palpable. Everyone is committed and wants to be on the boat but there are some hard decisions to be made. To complicate things further most participants have to check out of the hotel this morning because the boats were meant to leave today already.
As we walked over to the meeting venue there was a refugee boat rescued by a bigger ship pulling into Messina with about 900 people on board, apparently from Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.
We have just heard that the Palestinian ambassador in Italy will come to meet with us at 4.30pm this afternoon to wish us well.
Overview: we have two boats, the second Amal-Hope is unfortunately not ready to sail as it needs some repairs and the captain won’t be able to sail if the timeframe shifts. This means it needs both a captain and crew. Apparently there are few female captains in the world and fewer still who would take on a mission like this.
The meeting was to share this information with the group of possible participants. Also to ask everyone what their own time commitments are in order to have as much information as possible to make the final selection. How to decide who goes tomorrow will be a treacherous process. Of the group, 6 participants agree to wait in Messina to see if the Amal-Hope can be repaired and a new captain and crew can be found; a few people will not be going at all. How do you prioritise one person over the other? The committee adjourns the full meeting to continue their selection work and we all agree to convene at 1pm when the team to leave tomorrow will be announced. I decide to walk across the street to see the refugee ship that has been lifted onto a huge boat to be docked.
I arrive at the palisade fence to see four Red Cross tents, a few other tents and lots of people in uniforms — coast guard, navy, police, some kind of immigration force and military. There are already some people who have been “processed”, mostly men, but just inside a tent is a family of four, the youngest child looks about 4 years old. I stand there watching this tragic scene unfold. Who gets to be in uniform, who gets to be legal, who gets to be illegal and who gets to be on the right side of the fence?
All of a sudden there is a flurry of activity and shouting. A young man, no older than 20 has made a dash for the fence. He makes it away from four armed and uniformed people and throws himself at a fence about his height. He is up, he is over, but his foot gets stuck and he dangles on the right side of the fence. He is the “wrong” kind of person so the uniformed people pin him down and then escort him onto the other side again. Why would he run? Isn’t he already safe now that he has made it into the port? I don’t have words to describe that scene in any more detail.
I walk to the Zaytouna and along the way two high school students recognise my t-shirt and one speaks English. It turns out that she volunteers for a Muslim youth organisation that helps with the migrants who arrive weekly in Sicily. She tells us that the Syrian refugees are allowed to stay in a camp but everyone else is deported within 7 days. Now I understand why that young man had to try and jump the fence. Surviving on an unsafe vessel on a temperamental sea and being herded into a Red Cross tent is not the end; jumping the fence successfully is not the end; hiding illegally is not the end; working illegally is not the end…
At 1pm we are back in a meeting and the participants are announced. I am one of them but it doesn’t feel good. So many are crying and disappointed that they will be unable to leave tomorrow morning. On board are the following people: Mairead Maguire, Irish Nobel Laureate; Marama Davidson, Samira Douaifia and Jeannette Escanilla who are members pf parliament from New Zealand, Algeria and Sweden respectively; Dr Fauziah Hasan, a Malaysian humanitarian; Sandra Barrilaro, a photographer and author from Spain; and our boat leader Ann Wright.
I need to get a few more supplies and then be ready to leave at 7.am tomorrow.
This post originally appeared on Middle East Monitor.