The 4-month-old girl who survived the shipwreck and J., the hidden hero: “I saved her, I lost 6 friends”

from Elena Theban

J. is 17 years old, he comes from Togo, and on June 27 he was on the boat that sank in the Libyan search and rescue area. He was one of the few who knew how to swim, and he rescued six people, including the 4-month-old girl photographed on the shoulders of another migrant. He is now in a center for minors in Taranto, and his fate is still uncertain

Slammed in the waves on the back of a big fat boy, it was little more than a yellow stain on his red shirt. Only when the rescuers of Doctors Without Borders (Msf) they realized that the little bundle that the young man did everything to keep out of the water was a 4 month old baby girl.

The photojournalist Michael Bunelwho was on board the MSF launch, filmed the whole scene, which took place in the Libyan search and rescue zone: the robust young man in the red shirt and a woman are seen attached to a wreck, just above the surface of the water. They have been there for at least three hours, they are exhausted, the violent waves are pulling them from side to side. The big boy in the red T-shirt has a hallucinating look, with one hand he holds on to what is left of the boat and with the other he grabs the little girl, a tiny bundle that every time runs the risk of escaping him.

He throws it on his shoulder, as if it were its rock in the middle of the sea. The dinghy approaches swaying as the rescuers stretch out their arms. It’s dangerous, they could take all three of them down. A rescuer, Fulvia Conte of Msf, leans over the edge of orange rubber, while two other operators hold her by the suit. She manages to take the baby and passes her to a doctor. She doesn’t breathe and so he tries to revive her: a heart massage, a few blows on the back. The little girl suddenly she bursts into tears: she is alive. Everything ends in a matter of seconds, without even having time to think.

It seems like a miracle. But if that little girl is now safe with her mother in a hospital in Malta it is not only because the boy in the red shirt kept her as if her life depended on her and her MSF doctors lent her the first care.
And why Before a 17 year old boy he rescued her from the wavesentrusting it to the young man in the red shirt.
IS an unknown hero arrived from Togo in that piece of the Mediterranean, in an attempt to find a better life in Europe.
He saved six other people and then disappeared into the anonymity of a shelter of Taranto. Now it is he who must be saved, to get to the better life he was looking for.

I was traveling on the dinghy with 6 friends, they are all dead

the boy, of whom we know only the proper name, told Doctors Without Borders, J. “The waves were high, the wind very strong and it was late at night. The water entered everywhere in the dinghy. We tried to empty it. People were very scared, panic began. Everyone stood up ». Many people have fallen into the sea. “I began to see people in the water” the boy said.

It was he, one of the few who knew how to swim, to reach six people by stroke one after the other
taking them up to the pieces of the dinghy that floated in the middle of the waves, where they remained clinging for hours. Among them was the child’s mother, who the boy saved first
. Only later did he realize the yellow bundle in the waves. So he also grabbed the child and put her in the arms of the boy in the red shirt. “Though i could not save any of my 6 friends i saved many children. I saved the little girl who was evacuated by helicopter with her mother. I also took another child, but unfortunately he was already dead. Then you from MSF came to save us “J. told the rescuers.

When Geo Barents, the rescue and search ship of Doctors Without Borders, arrived at the site of the shipwreck on June 27, after three hours of navigation, it was faced with an apocalyptic scene. The dinghy, now smashed by the waves, had begun to sink. “It was our worst nightmare come true. We immediately understood how complicated a rescue would be »says Riccardo Gatti, head of MSF operations aboard Geo Barents. “The boat was sinking with dozens of people stranded while many were already in the water”. Rescuers threw life jackets overboard, to allow shipwrecked people scattered everywhere to cling. They had the sun in their faces and did not immediately see the child. Then the rescue.

Not everyone was so lucky: two women said they lost their children at sea and another young woman reported losing her younger brother. Among the dead there is also a pregnant woman, whom the rescuers have not been able to revive. In the end they counted 71 survivorsmany with severe burns and dehydration, e at least 22 people missing. The Mediterranean Sea remains the deadliest border in the world, with 24,184 dead or missing migrants registered since 2014 e 721 only in 2022.

Among those who made it is J., the 17-year-old hero kid. Landed in Taranto, he was taken over by the Italian authorities. He no longer risks his life, but his fate is still uncertain
hanging from the recognition and assistance procedures for unaccompanied minors.

«If we run away it is because we were not well at home, that is why we run away; if we had been well, we would not have gone to look for this tragedy “he told the MSF operators who rescued him. “These people have seen their friends, companions, children, brothers and sisters die before their eyes. Many of them flee from the violence and abuses suffered in Libya
and after this shipwreck they experienced another tragedy – adds Fulvia Conte of MSF, the deputy head of MSF’s search and rescue activities who saved the child on the rubber dinghy -. Fortunately, they have arrived on dry land where they can be assisted on a medical and psychological level. But an adequate response is needed to a situation that is no longer an emergency because it has been going on for years. We believe there is a need for a coordinated European response and adequate and proactive search and rescue, as well as more legal and safe channels to evacuate these people from Libya which is not a safe country“.

July 6, 2022 (change July 6, 2022 | 19:48)

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The 4-month-old girl who survived the shipwreck and J., the hidden hero: “I saved her, I lost 6 friends”

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