Amjad and Tahani Abdallah, 33 and 31 years old, have no more news of their children aged 8, 5, 3 and 1 year since the boat shipwrecked off the Lybian coast. Saved and brought to Salerno by one of Mare Nostrum ships, they now are in Milan looking for the truth: "Are they still alive? It's unbearable not knowing where they are". What follows is the agonizing report of the shipwreck. And last, but not least, the list of other missing people.
Rama, 8 years old. Mohamed, 5 years old. Omar, 3 years old. Israa, 1 year old. Missing since the night of Aug 2nd when, off the Lybian coast, the boat full of migrants they were travelling on with their parents, mother Tahani, 31 yrs old, and father Amjad Abdallah, 33 yrs old, shipwrecked. From that moment on, after they've been rescued by Mare Nostrum ships, they have been asking about thier children with no answer. We have met the parents, devastated but still clung to hope, that in these days are living in the welcome centre managed by Farsi Prossimo Consortium in Milan.
They told us the terrible moments of the shipwreck, the frightful behind-the-scenes-activity, the unbearable lack of sure answers on the destiny of their children by the institutions in charge that rescued them, and asked us to publish their children's pictures to activate any possible research channel, in addition to the institutional one that is slowly working even thanks to associations' volunteers pressures, to throw light on a drama growing day after day since besides the four children other 16 underaged and at least 7 adults are missing (but figures are growing: since the publication of the first article on this issue, new cases are following one another), and on what happened in the hours after the shipwreck of Aug 2nd when the survivors have been brought to at least two different places, Taranto and Salerno, on Aug 5th, together with other thousand asylum-seekers rescued those days.
Here the report, devastating but full of dignity, of Amjad, helped by his wife in reconstructing. A huge thank you goes to Ahmed Aldayeb, Farsi Prossimo cultural mediator, for helping us collect their testimony.
When did you decide to leave and how did the shipwreck occur?
We come from Damasco. In 2011, when the war broke out, we moved to Lybia were I run a car body shop. Now even there the war broke out and after 15 days closed at home with no water nor electricity we decided to leave. We wanted to go back to Syria, to some areas where the war is not so bloody, but we didn't have valid documents for our youngest daughter since there's no Syrian Embassy in Tripoli. So we thought of Europe, Denmark in particular, since we've been told so many good things about it. My wife and I paid a thousand euros each for the transfer, the children paid nothing. We left Tripoli on a boat together with other 550 persons, among which 35 children and 50 women, all Syrians on the top of the boat and persons of other nationality mainly coming from Bangladesh and Africa in the hold of the boat (as it happens on every boat, who pays the more gets places on the top).
After 8 hours travelling, very quietly, at 22:30 we came across an oil tanker that threw water at us and sent a sos message to the military navy. Persons from the hold, happy for the possible rescue, came to the top of the boat and it started swinging up to capsizing. The oil tanker was gone and after we came back to surface we kept being at the mercy of the waves for at least an hour and a half before the rescue came, that meant at least five ships.
Were your children with you?
It was impossible to stay alltogether, but we could have an eye on two of them until our rescue, they were all wearing a life jacket, as my wife, not me. I've seen heartless scenes such as some Bengalis trying to lift someone else's life jacket, children's as well, since they had none. Persons on the rescue ships didn't intervene right away, they first took pictures of people in the water, for a long time they just rescued who could get close to the ship, just later they rescued the rest of us. I could reach one of those ships and I was rescued, the crew spoke Italian.
I said them "baby, baby" to let them understand there were babies in the sea, they nodded with a soothing sight so I, exhausted, relaxed. My wife was rescued by another ship that it seemed to her to be full of Filipinos, all dressed in white, she was treated greatly and the next day she was transfered on San Giusto military ship where I was as well. From that moment on we started asking for our children but with no answer, the only message we got was that all persons seriously injured had been brought somewhere else with another ship. We spent three days on that ship before disembarkation in Salerno.
Did you report the disappereance of your children immediately?
Yes. On the military ship they recorded our documents, took a picture of each one of us, we gave our documents to a Lebanese interpreter, civilian, around his 30s, resident in Malta, who recorded all infos about our missing children. He was the only person we were allowed to meet, I asked to talk with an official, with the captain, but they denied it. The interpreter assured us telling us that even a mobile phone, a lost watch or any other thing would have been handed back once on land, and for sure persons!
Then he told us he would have had reported the missing of our children to his superiors. It was the hird day on that ship: we then asked him why nobody ever told us anything about persons missing doing the head count and he answered that all info were confidential, in the captain's hands. And that nobody could talk to him. Then we asked why they waited so long to start the rescue operation and took pictures and his answer was that they couldn't do anything until the okay of the captain!
Once you reached Salerno, what did you do?
There we weren't asked for documents. We were brought to a welcome centre where we we were told that we should have left the place within 24 hours otherwise they would have had to take our prints and we wouldn't have been free to go wherever. So, asking to civilians that welcomed us we were suggested to go to Milan where there would have been other welcome centres. Even there we asked for our children and we were told that we would have found them in Milan...other families, like us, have lost their children, their wives, they don't know where they are and are now gone to Sweden, admitting, in a certain way, not to have hopes. But we feel the need to try all possible ways. There are persons, some friends or other Syrians that were on the boat, that we don't know where they are, they could be safe and, not seeing us, could have brought our children with them. Anyway, at the moment for us the most important thing is to reach a certainty, if negative.
What do you mean?
We've always been convinced that Europe is the homeland of human rights: we ask the Italian authorities, who rescued us, the Navy, to tell us how things are, where are our children. We know that besides life there's death: if they are indeed lost in the sea, that means dead, we will accept it and try to start living again somehow. The most important thing now is not to live in this unbearable uncertainty of not knowing where are our children, of everyone telling us to wait. We kindly ask you to accept our plea.
Note: we are receiving other reports, with pictures, of Aug 2nd shipwreck missing people, of whom nobody gave any official news, such as Abdallah family children case. Next the first names, attached the pictures. For further reports, please write to this email.
Translation by Chiara Schimd.
List of some August 2nd shipwreck missing people:
Ragda Alshar, 55 years old
Ahmad Abu Kheshrif, 4 years old
Hoda Abu Kheshrif, 3 years old
Sandi Hasan, 10 months old
Nagam Sulaf Albalkhi,9 years old
Warda Abu Kheshrif,29 years old
Hassan al Hassan,18 years old
Nada Qala', 9 years old
Ali Qala', 8 years old
Giamila Qala', 4 years old
Bilal Qala, 8 months old
Wissam Hijazi, 30 years old
Sham Bashir Natfah, 5 years old
Enas Asayed, 17 years old
Marah Asayed, 19 years old
Reem Labbad, 22 years old (she is nine months pregnant)