The number of refugees and migrants prepared to make perilous journeys to flee conflict and persecution is at an all-time high. 

According to UNHCR, more than 1.3 million people have sought safety and refuge in Europe since 2015 and more than 60 million people are on the move worldwide.

2016 was the deadliest year on record for refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Tragically, more than 3,900 people drowned, exceeding the number of deaths for the whole of 2015. This sad statistic spurred Save the Children to respond in launching a search and rescue vessel in the Mediterranean,

The Vos Hestia was launched on 7 September 2016 with the sole purpose of rescuing refugees and migrants on the busy North Africa to Italy route. A person taking off on this route is eight times more likely to die in the course of the journey than someone on the overland Aegean path through Turkey.

The vessel has the capacity to rescue and accommodate 300 people at any one time. Essential services are provided to families and children once on board, including water, blankets and medical care. We also provide safe spaces for children on board, where our expert staff can help give them the emotional care they need to recover from trauma.

A mass rescue

In one rescue mission that took place on 12-13 November, nine-year-old Nasreen* and her six-year-old brother Ahmad* were among the 100-plus people who were pulled from a deflating rubber dinghy. Tragically, their mother's lifeless body was discovered in the bottom of the dinghy. They weren’t travelling with any other relatives.

Ahmad* and Nasreen* received psycho-social support from a specialist on-board child protection team. During the two-day journey to Italy following the rescue, Save the Children's on-shore team secured them a spot in a dedicated children's home whilst Italian social services began the search for a family with whom to place them in the long term.

“Two young children have witnessed their mother die in unspeakable circumstances. There are no words to describe the horrific events we have witnessed,” said Roger Alonso, Team Leader on the Vos Hestia.

It doesn’t stop with the ship

Once children and their families reach the Italian port, our work does not stop there. We are present in the Italian ports where refugees and migrants disembark, and are recognised as the leading agency working on child protection. We ensure that rescued accompanied and unaccompanied children understand the legal process and their rights, and we work with local authorities to identify long-term solutions that are in the children’s best interests.

As of the Vos Hestia’s last mission for the season in November, we had rescued more 2,215 people, of whom 494 were children. And when the perilous journey starts again this year, Save the Children will be there.

The Vos Hestia will be resume rescues in early April 2017, keep and eye out for more updates later in the year.