Rome | He kissed them on the forehead, then asked them to wait, again. On the humanitarian ship Ocean viking, the brief visit by an Italian doctor transformed the anger of migrants who foresee the end of a long blockage at sea into “hope”.
Round and reassuring face, thick pepper and salt mustache, a pat on the back or on the cheek for everyone, the doctor sent by the Italian government to take the pulse of the SOS Mediterranean ambulance boat, in emergency since Friday in because of the tensions and violence on board, wielded the carrot and the stick. But he left under the applause of the 180 people who wanted to keep his words only the prospect of an imminent landing in Italy, after nine days of blockage.
“It only depends on you!” Do not create a problem, do not fight, respect the crew, they saved you, and it will go quickly. We know it’s a long time, but the coronavirus is slowing things down in Italy, so be patient again, ”he told them, group after group.
On Friday, threats by a small part of the migrants towards the SOS Mediterranean team were added to suicide attempts and fights, forcing the NGO to demand for 44 people a medical evacuation for “acute psychological distress”, reason for his presence on Saturday.
“You are not mentally ill,” swept the doctor, who saw an altercation erupt before even boarding on Saturday. “You are just tired, stressed, nervous. But if you continue to be aggressive, it will delay the landing process, “he said in his white anti-COVID suit, but without a mask.
“The truth is that I don’t know how long it will take,” he insisted. But each time, the prospect of a landing, expressed on behalf of an emissary of the Italian government, raised the applause and made illuminate faces extinct.
Sunday morning, the 180 migrants must be tested at COVID-19 before being transferred on Monday to another ship in the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle, where they will be placed in quarantine, according to the Italian Ministry of the Interior.
Ahmed, a 23-year-old Tunisian who lived illegally for seven years in the Parisian suburbs, was entitled to admonishments in private, but came away satisfied: “He said to me: ‘Be quiet.’ He wanted to be sure that there would be no more problems and told me that in max three days, it’s over, “he told an AFP journalist on board theOcean viking.
The doctor made no promises. “But at least there is hope. They want to accept us. Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, whatever, ”appreciates Emmanuel, a 32-year-old Ghanaian.
“It’s good for us, he said yes, we could go back. So you just have to wait, ”says Mohammad Irshad, a 22-year-old Pakistani.
Like the vast majority on board, the latter was surprised at the aggressiveness of a minority. “I’m afraid that because of them, we are all in danger, that we will all be rejected. The Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians, they did not experience torture in Libya like us, like the black brothers or of Bangladesh who are silent. They don’t have the same resilience or the same patience, ”he understands.
Since Saturday morning, calm has returned toOcean viking, positioned off Sicily. In the morning, before the Italian doctor’s visit, it was even absolute silence that reigned there, as if the events of the past few days had been nothing but bloodshots already forgotten.
“They are very nice, they ask me how I am. It’s almost suspicious, it’s so benevolent all at once, ”summed up a member of the NGO.
Now, after the reassuring words, the migrants are hoping for action.
“They no longer believe him because he represents Italy. We may gain a few days of peace. But it has to move because the placebo effect is not going to last long, ”observes Anne, the doctor at SOS Mediterranean.
“What is needed is to land now,” says Nicholas Romaniuk, the operations manager on board. “And you have to do it before there is a death.”