Survivors of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean told their stories during a meeting with European students at a recent event on Lampedusa to commemorate two deadly shipwrecks in 2013 in which some 390 migrants died.
Randa, Sherihan, Nurhan, Christina. These are the names of the daughters aged 10, 8, 5 and nearly two. A woman has tattooed the names on her left arm, with hearts at the beginning and end. Their little bodies were never found after a deadly shipwreck on October 11, 2013.
Their mother was at the school 'Istituto Pirandello' on Lampedusa on Sunday (October 2) to attend a gathering with European students to commemorate the shipwrecks of October 3 and 11, nine years ago.
Some of the survivors of the two shipwrecks spoke at the event.
The mother of the four girls didn't open her mouth, as if still in shock. Her husband, Wahid Yussed, a 61-year-old Syrian who used to head the pulmonology department of a hospital in Libya, said "each instant of that trip is engraved in our memory."
"For two years, we woke up every night calling the names of our missing daughters," he said.
"The situation has slightly improved thanks to God who gave us another two daughters, but we needed a lot of psychological support because we thought our lives were over after that day."
The couple now lives in Germany, where the doctor studies German and hopes to be able to work again. After the shipwreck, the couple lived for seven years as political refugees in Switzerland. They moved to Germany two years ago.
"I feel guilty. Why did I survive and not them, my daughters. Why?", the Syrian doctor continues to wonder.
He returned to Lampedusa for the first time since the tragedy to attend the march for the "Day of memory and hosting" on Monday, October 3.
Solom, the only survivor among his friends
Solom, a 34-year-old Eritrean, also told his story to the students. A survivor of the October 3 shipwreck, he now lives in Sweden.
"Each year I return to Lampedusa and go to the cemetery in Agrigento to bring flowers to my friends. I left with them, they were all aged 22 and 23. I am the only survivor."
Solom works in Sweden as a lorry driver. He is married to a fellow Eritrean and they have a 14-month-old child. "I owe my life to Vito Fiorino, 'My Father', he is the man who rescued me," he explained.
"I fled my country, Eritrea, and with my friends crossed Ethiopia, Sudan and the Sahara desert until Libya. We were abducted and they asked me for 5,000 dollars to be released. Thank God, my brother paid the ransom and I left Libya. In Sweden, at the beginning, it was difficult, but then I understood the system and if you are committed and find work, life is really beautiful."
Solom urged all Africans fleeing their home countries not to board migrant boats and to try to arrive in a legal way: "Living at home is difficult, you can die. But you can also die on a boat. After what I experienced, I ask everyone not to give money for a crossing, go to Sudan or Ethiopia and wait for the situation to improve."
Fanus, Adal and Abel
Fanus also attended the event on Lampedusa. She was 16 years old on October 3, 2013, and she was the only one who recognized the migrant smuggler and reported him to the authorities.
At the time, she remained for three months at the hotspot on Lampedusa. She said that she still wonders how she survived the shipwreck since she doesn't know how to swim. She now lives in Sweden and has three children.
Then there is Adal: he was the first, on October 3, 2013, to reach Lampedusa as a survivor and to help identify all of the victims' names. He lost his brother in the tragedy that caused at least 360 victims.*
Abel, who is still a minor, is extremely shy. He lost his father in the shipwreck and he has yet to recover from the trauma.
Students also listened to the testimony of Lampedusa residents who mobilized on that terrible night.
"I can still see that terrifying scenario, at least 200 people who were looking at me, screaming and asking for help," said Vito Fiorino.
"I thought: I must save four or five," he recollected.
"I started taking on board those youths, they were naked, covered in gasoline and they slipped from my hands. They told me they were about 500 on that boat and that, at around midnight, a large vessel had approached them, had turned a light on them and then left. Due to indifference, 368 people died that night."
*The number of confirmed deaths of the October 3 shipwreck is reported to be between 359 and 368, depeding on the source. The most common estimate puts the toll at "more than 360". The second shipwreck on October 11 claimed the lives of at least 34 individuals.