Nine hours at sea, kept alive by a bit of wood

Some of the migrants who were rescued by the Libyan coastguard after their boat sank last week.
Some of the migrants who were rescued by the Libyan coastguard after their boat sank last week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nearly 300,000 people have fled to the European Union this year, mostly after surviving a hazardous sea crossing and then undertaking an equally risky journey overland to enter the bloc. Here is a look at their ordeals as they travelled.

ZUWARA (Libya) • Pakistani teenager Shefaz Hamza spent nine hours at sea clinging to the wreckage of a migrant boat that sank off Libya. By the time the coastguard arrived, his mother and young sister were dead.

They were among at least 76 people who died when their boat went down last Thursday off the western Libyan port of Zuwara, Mr Mohamad al-Misrati, a spokesman for humanitarian network Red Crescent, told AFP. Up to 198 people were saved, including many of Arab and African origin, but dozens are still missing at sea, he said.

At a police station near Zuwara, Hamza sat on the ground next to his brother among those rescued.

"We set off at about 1.30am," said the 17-year-old. "It was a wooden boat with about 350 people on board, including my father, my mother, my little sister (aged 11), my older sister (27) and my brother (16). After an hour and a half, the boat started shaking, then water started to leak in, and very soon we found ourselves in the sea," he said.

"The boat shattered into pieces of wood. My mother and I grabbed on to one and I saw my brother and little sister by my side.

... the crossing to Europe is treacherous, and more than 2,500 people have died this year alone, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

"Someone tried to grab the life jacket that my brother was wearing because he didn't have one himself, but my brother hit him and he left my brother alone.

"My little sister, someone climbed on her back and pushed her down. When I saw her for the last time, she was underwater with him on top of her," Hamza said.

"My mother and I spent nine hours in the water, holding on to a bit of wood. I kept telling her everything would be okay. But a quarter of an hour before the rescue team arrived, she passed away," he said. "She died in my arms. I asked the man to let me take her body with me, but he refused. My mother is dead. My little sister is dead."

Later on, Hamza learnt that his father and his other sister survived and had been taken to hospital.

The crossing to Europe is treacherous, and more than 2,500 people have died this year alone, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

At the police station near Zuwara, Mr Sami Maqsud, 25, from Syria, repeated the same question to the security officer in charge of the station. "What will happen to us?" he asked, again and again.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on , with the headline 'Nine hours at sea, kept alive by a bit of wood'. Print Edition | Subscribe