Yesterday morning, Maria Rita Agliozzo and Marika Giustiniani, health professionals with the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corps, disembarked from the ship Dattilo in the port of Valencia. Last Tuesday they had embarked on the Coast Guard ship in Pozzallo to assist the 629 migrants arriving from the Libyan coast and saved at sea by the search and rescue operations of the SOS Méditerranée. Both aged 26 – the former a doctor, the latter a nurse – they spent five days in close contact with the 274 migrants transferred from the Dattilo, including 30 women and 60 unaccompanied minors, mostly adolescents.
“For them we were simply Maria Rita and Marika,” the doctor says, who together with the nurse will shortly return to Italy, still on board the Dattilo. “We’ve had a very profound human experience and thanks to the migrants’ health conditions we were able to speak to them at length about their expectations”. While getting to know each other during the days at sea, a solidarity that becomes humanity on board a ship, some touching stories emerged.
For example, Dr. Maria Rita Agliozzo tells that of two Eritrean brothers aged 17 and 15. United and always together they decided to undertake this long and dangerous journey to escape a future of poverty: “In their eyes I recognised the spark of hope, the smile of those who hope for a better future,” the doctor said.
This wasn’t the first experience of rescue at sea for the Order of Malta’s health professionals. Always on board the ships of the Coast Guard, with which the Order’s Italian Relief Corps has been cooperating for exactly 10 years, they’ve already taken part in numerous rescue operations in the Mediterranean sea.
Since 2008, the Order of Malta’s medical teams have been providing healthcare both on board naval vessels and on the island of Lampedusa, from where the patrol boats leave to reach the targets signalled by IMRCC (Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) of the Rome Coast Guard.
Through its associations and its relief corps, the Order of Malta has numerous programmes for the reception and integration of migrants and refugees in Europe. In Spain, Italy and in other European countries, volunteers distribute food and basic necessities. In France, the Order gives legal assistance to migrants detained in prison and in Germany over 100 specialised centres offer psychological and social support. Great attention is given to the various stages of integration into society and the labour world. Courses to learn the language and to understand the culture are also provided in Austria.
Malteser International, the Order of Malta’s International Relief Agency, offers assistance to refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and on the American continent.