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'Economist' Correspondent Spends Time On Migrant Rescue Ship


The Dignity 1 is a rescue boat sailing the Mediterranean, one of three operated by Doctors Without Borders. It looks for migrants making the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe. Thousands have drowned in that attempt. Emma Hogan is Europe correspondent for The Economist. She just spent five days on the Dignity 1 and joins us to talk more about that. Good morning.

EMMA HOGAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: The ship is essentially searching for those flimsy migrant boats before they sink. What did you come across?

HOGAN: Over the five days I was there, Dignity 1 picked up about 500 people. And that was from several of these extremely flimsy boats. So these boats do not have the capacity to take anyone where they want to go to in Europe. They will go out of the Libyan shore and get stuck in the international waters. And they won't have enough fuel or enough food to last. And basically they'll wait to be picked up, and some of them will drown.

MONTAGNE: And on these five days that you were traveling, what sticks out for you from the rescues that you observed?

HOGAN: I think the thing that stuck out for me was seeing a 23-year-old Nigerian woman who - Joy (ph), who was six months pregnant, die. She had inhaled fuel from the boat, which had sort of started leaking. And despite the medical team on board trying to revive her, she died. This, to me, was incredibly harrowing. But then there was also a sense of which, you know, what would her life have been once she got to Europe? There's a tendency for Nigerian women to be trafficked into prostitution once they get to Italy. So this young woman, who was six months pregnant, traveling over, you know, the waters, she had a dreadful death, and she had a dreadful time before she got there. But I wasn't totally convinced that she would have had a good passage in Europe once she arrived. And, to me, that doesn't suggest that a migration system is working.

MONTAGNE: One thing that actually surprised me - because we've been talking about this for so long, sadly - was what you discovered, how little these migrants knew about where they were going.

HOGAN: Exactly. What I found very striking was that these people do not necessarily have destination Europe in mind. I mean, a lot of the people I spoke to, you know, young men from the Ivory Coast or Cameroon or Nigeria, they tried to find work elsewhere in Africa. And they hadn't been able to. And for some reason or another, they'd ended up in Libya, which, as you know, has been without a government since 2011.

So these people get treated very badly in Libya, and they have three options. They either can go on a boat across to Europe. They can try and stay and make a life in Libya, or they can go back. And by the time they've reached Libya, they've also crossed the Sahara Desert, which in itself is just as dangerous as the Mediterranean Sea.

So they really are stuck there with few options. These people are not necessarily leaving war or conflict. They're what would be termed economic migrants. But by the time they get on the Mediterranean waters, they've dealt with things which blurred the distinction between economic migrant and refugee to some extent.

MONTAGNE: Emma Hogan is a correspondent for The Economist. She just spent five days on the boat Dignity 1, which was rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean. Thank you very much for joining us.

HOGAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.