CATANIA, Sicily - On Friday morning as Italian politicians and NGOs were about to debate the rules and regulations of rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, six newly-orphaned children stepped off a boat in Sicily.
Each of their parents died in an over-crowded and collapsing rubber dinghy, almost certainly a cheap, non-sea worthy vessel shipped from China that leaked fuel which, when mixed with sea water, created a highly-corrosive liquid that burned those trapped within.
“I saw the bodies - it was awful,” said Save the Children’s Rik Goverde who was on board the ship that brought the children to shore.
Thirteen people died in total on Monday night, including two pregnant women, but over 160 were saved from the dinghy by the NGO, Open Arms.
Roger Alonso, also of Save the Children, told HuffPost UK: “Apparently the rubber boat deflated during the night because it was quite hot and it collapsed with more than 160+ people on board.
“Normally they carry 120-130 people which is already overloaded so I cannot imagine what it must have been like.
“Apparently, the fuel mixing with the sea water when the boat collapsed caused fumes which is how some people died.”
The rescued and the bodies of the dead were then transferred to Save the Children’s ship, the Vos Hestia, which brought them ashore at the Sicilian port of Trapani.
Goverde said: “Women that were saved by Open Arms and later transferred to us expressed harrowing stories of beatings and abuse. Some were catatonic, in shock.
“All people I spoke with, told stories of beatings and most times kidnappings.”
It is a story familiar to Amina Ja Usman, a cultural mediator at a refugee centre in Catania who has worked with countless victims of people-trafficking from Libya.
She told HuffPost UK how the vision of passage to Europe sold by the traffickers differs from the reality with girls, many of them minors, forced to work off debts.
She said: “Libya is a very dangerous place. Girls, minors, many of them lose their virginity in Libya because they were not told what would happen.
“Some of them lose their lives in the desert, some of them are sold like objects, sold to men and women as sexual objects to earn the money used to take them to Europe.
“The women are raped, they don’t care if they’re married. Life in Libya is worthless.”