A Cork nurse has hit out at governments across Europe for curtailing search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean.
Aoife Ní Mhurchú, a nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, has been on the frontline of search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean ocean, assisting in the rescue of hundreds of migrants desperately trying to flee Libya.
Having previously worked in Afghanistan and Libya, Aoife now works as a triage nurse on the Aquarius, a search and rescue vessel for MSF.
Almost 8,500 migrants fled Libya across the Mediterranean in the first six months of 2019. More than 400 have died.
“European governments have forced an end to most search and rescue activities in the Mediterannean - a ruthless move that carries a heavy human cost,” said Aoife, speaking on MSF social media.
“And despite fewer crossings, the chance of drowning has only increased.
“People still choose to risk death rather than face the inhumane conditions in Libya,” she added.
Aoife, who comes from Waterfall, said they know that fleeing Libya means they are risking death but that staying is not an option. “I know what they’re fleeing - I’ve worked in Libya,” she explained.
“I’ve heard their stories of forced prostitution and rape. I’ve treated their wounds from abuses and torture,” she added.
“I have seen the appalling living conditions in Libya and they cannot go back.
“They simply cannot go back to this highly dangerous existence.”
Aoife recalled a rescue mission in 2018 which saw MSF’s Aquarius respond to emergency calls in the Mediterranean. She said emergency calls came flooding in calling for help to revive people in need of resuscitation.
“It was total chaos. Everyone had to drop what they were doing and either pull people out of the water or perform CPR,” she added.
The crew rescued 66 men, 11 women and 22 children. Around 36 people died.
Aoife criticised governments across Europe for supporting the curtailment of search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
“Despite what we know about the dangerous conditions there, European governments are still supporting a system that forces people back to a country that is not safe for them,” she said.
“They are making it nearly impossible to carry out search and rescue activities and some governments are even criminalising out life-saving work.
“In spite of the political obstacles placed in our path, MSF and out partners SOS Mediterranee are relaunching our life-saving work in the Mediterranean.
“Why are we here?” she asked. “Because we have to be.
“Because like every other place in the world we work - in places of conflict and catastrophe - we are saving lives,” she added.
“And every human life is worth saving.”