The 15 minors stuck on board the Sea-Watch 3 for almost two weeks spoke to ANSA about their journey and their future dreams in Europe. They had been refused entry to Italian ports after being rescued at sea in January. Their traumatic experiences continue to haunt them.
They are aged between 14 and 17 years old, they hail from the African nations of Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, and they have all endured a nightmarish journey to Europe: the 15 minors who disembarked off the Sea-Watch 3 earlier this week did not know each other before their journeys on sea – but have all undergone the same experiences on board the search-and-rescue vessel.
Traveling with 32 other migrants of adult age, these unaccompanied minors shared the same hopes and dreams but also witnessed the same pain and anguish when after being rescued in the Mediterranean they weren't allowed to dock.
Tales of violence and abuse
The young Africans share stories that are different yet tragically similar: Three of them recount how they were imprisoned in Libya and tortured. One of the minors remembers how guards in Libya "hit us without reason," describing the violent and cruel treatment that many migrants who pass through Libya now report.
"They wanted money," he adds, showing scars left over from the violence. Many of them have scars on their bodies and seem almost ashamed of being victims of such abuse.
Once they were finally allowed to dock in Catania on Thursday, 13 days after being rescued in the Mediterranean, medical professionals checked the health of the young passengers. The doctors confirmed that these young people suffered "significant psychological shock" in addition to their poor physical condition, saying that many spoke of "great pain" for leaving their families behind and of making traumatic experiences along their journeys.
Nearly all of them reported having recurrent nightmares – often about being forced to return to Libya. One of the minors even stopped talking for a few days, showing signs of depression.
An adult on board the private search-and-rescue boat run by a German NGO meanwhile stopped eating for a number of days.
Protection - for now
A juvenile court in Catania meanwhile has ordered that a tutor be appointed for each minor on the Sea-Watch. The decision is in line with both Italian and international legislation regarding the protection of unaccompanied minors.
The measure was announced before the refugees and migrants aboard the Sea Watch 3 were allowed to disembark.
What happens next?
There was no celebration on board the Sea Watch 3 when the unaccompanied minors heard the news that after being stuck out at sea for almost two weeks, they would finally be allowed to dock in Catania. With their eyes fixed on the coast, there were just smiles and a sense of relief, knowing that this part of their journey was finally over.
But whatever happens next still lies ahead. After bonding on board the search-and-rescue vessel, the young African asylum seekers will now be sent to different European nations, where they do not know what the future may hold.