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Tuesday, 9 May 2017 - 12:45pm

Save the Children has saved 550 refugees and migrants from the Med in biggest rescue operation to date.

The rescue took place on Friday 5th May, in the midst of four days during which 75 people are thought to have drowned, as the death toll in the Mediterranean continues to mount. 

 1,150 people are thought to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2017 alone. Altogether 6,000 people arrived in Italy last weekend, bringing the total this year to more than 43,000.

The people on board Save the Children’s Search and Rescue ship, the Vos Hestia, were rescued from four flimsy rubber dinghies that were struggling towards safety. Nearly 40 of those brought on board are thought to be children travelling alone. Fourteen pregnant women and four children under-five – including a one-week old baby – were also among those rescued from the imminent risk of drowning.

Gillian Moyes, Vos Hestia Search and Rescue Team Leader, said:

“We have never had a day on the sea like this before. As our fast rescue boats made multiple trips to the nearby boats in distress, more and more appeared on the horizon. It is testament to the extraordinary efforts of our team and the other Search and Rescue ships in the area – which included NGOs and the Italian coastguard – that the death toll wasn’t higher. By the end of a day that began before dawn, we reached the very brink of our capacity. Every square inch of available deck was covered with people – including children and pregnant women - who may not otherwise have survived the day.

“Many of the people onboard told us of the violence and exploitation they fled in Libya. One man showed us the scars sustained when he was shot trying to return home from Libya after conditions there became ‘worse than Hell’. For so many people we speak to, the sea is the only way out.

“Shortly before this rescue took place we found and recovered a body that had been drifting in the water for a week or more. It was a stark reminder of what is at stake for people fleeing violence, persecution and extreme poverty. We should not be all that stands between desperate people and this fate.

“European states must support Italy with search-and-rescue operations: saving lives – not border control – should be the over-riding priority. And until the EU provides safe and legal routes to Europe, both for those in need of international protection and for other migrants, people will continue to risk their lives to reach Europe.”

Working with another rescue ship - the MSF and SOS Mediterrannee-run Aquarius - our specialist child protection team were able to reunite two young children with their mothers, after they had been separated in the chaos of their flight from Libya.

The rescued refugees and migrants disembarked on Monday 8th May at the port of Vibo Valentia in Southern Italy.

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact Simona Sikimic in London, 07760221890 simona.sikimic@savethechildren.org or Dan Stewart,D.Stewart@savethechildren.org.uk