Survivors of boat collapse off Lampedusa coast receive medical and psychological care

On Wednesday, April 6, at dawn, some 50 survivors of a boat that sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa received assistance from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other agencies working on the island. The shipwreck is believed to have resulted in 15 deaths, and the coast guard is still looking for 150 to 250 missing migrants.

When the survivors arrived, MSF’s medical team immediately set about triaging the victims based on the severity of their injuries.

“We were notified right away of the survivors’ arrival and quickly went down to the port,” said Angelina Perrli, an MSF nurse. “They were in good health, but most were in a state of shock. We gave them blankets to protect them against hypothermia.”

Once the migrants were transferred to centres, medical follow-up was provided. The most common ailments are gastro-intestinal, pulmonary and respiratory infections.

Many people continue to arrive in a state of extreme fatigue because of the difficult conditions experienced on the voyage.

One young Somali who survived the shipwreck said: I received injuries to the face when the boat took on water…. I know how to swim, but two other passengers were holding on to me so as not to drown…. It was a struggle to survive.”

Those who were rescued also told our team that a number of pregnant women died during the voyage.

“In the past week, MSF teams have examined more than 600 migrants from Libya,” explained Aurélie Ponthieu, an MSF legal advisor on migratory issues. “They come mainly from sub-Saharan Africa and are fleeing conflicts or very difficult socio-economic conditions.”

Psychological help is required for those who have survived the shock of a long and arduous voyage. Accordingly, MSF decided to make available the psychological support needed by the migrants, whose future in detention remains uncertain.

The MSF team now consists of a field coordinator, a doctor, a nurse, two cultural interpreters, a logistics expert and a psychologist. MSF looks after the triage of patients at the military port and their medical follow-up in the island’s detention and reception centres. It has also taken on the role of evaluating their living conditions and access to care in the centres located in Italy.

MSF’s activities are funded by private donors and the organization receives no institutional funding from the Italian government.