Special Report

What it's like to be on the largest refugee rescue boat in the Mediterranean

By Lizzie Dearden | November 3, 2016 The Bourbon Argos is journeying towards what has become the deadliest sea crossing in the world, on a mission to save the lives of some of the hundreds of thousands of refugeescontinuing to risk their lives in desperate attempts to reach safety in Europe. The ship, run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is the largest humanitarian vessel patrolling the Mediterranean Sea, rescuing or transporting 8,534 migrants in the past six months alone. A letter from the government of Luxembourg is pinned on the wall of the mess, recognising the international crew's "exemplary service" providing safe passage for thousands of men, women and children. Like other humanitarian organisations, MSF is doing what it can to boost the European Union's limited anti-smuggling mission off the coast of Libya, where smugglers continue to launch overcrowded and unseaworthy dinghies towards European shores. In the latest disaster on Wednesday, a dinghy is believed to have capsized in rough seas, killing up to 100 migrants and refugees. A rescue vessel operated by Save the Children rescued almost 30 people and recovered several bodies, but with around 130 people likely have set off on board, many were feared to have drowned. Little over a week ago, the crew of the Bourbon Argos was witness to another disaster,finding the bodies of 29 men and women at the bottom of a rubber boat. A migrant takes part in an impromptu prayer meeting at the stern of the Bourbon Argos Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters Prosecutors believe the wooden floor of the vessel broke shortly after it was launched from Libya, causing water to seep in as people slid towards the dip in the middle. In panicked efforts to bail out the boat, passengers are believed to have attempted to use a plastic fuel container, but while trying to empty it overboard they tipped the contents inside, creating a toxic liquid that started burning through the refugees' skin while giving off noxious fumes. MSF workers said they could not be sure whether the victims were drowned or killed by fuel inhalation, but the solution was so potent that they had to limit contact with the boat for their own safety. Among more than 100 survivors was a man whose brother had reportedly jumped off the boat to escape the burning substance and drowned, and a father with his young baby who had lost his wife in the disaster. Seven of those rescued had to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment, with dozens more suffering chemical burns that left several with skin peeling from their bodies. A migrant is helped to disembark from the Bourbon Argos STRINGER Italy / Reuters Michele Telaro, the Bourbon Argos' field coordinator, described "horrific scenes" as the corpses were recovered over two days to be held in a shipping container that serves as the ship's morgue, just metres from grieving relatives. "We were mentally prepared in theory but when you face the situation it is not the same thing," the 41-year-old said. "You cannot imagine the suffering for those people, they had been on the boat with those bodies for hours in extreme pain… it was clear they were traumatised." Mr Telaro said that although most asylum seekers rescued by the ship have witnessed violence, with a "huge majority" of women having been raped or sexually abused, the overwhelming emotion is normally relief to be safely on board. "But in this case it was different," he added, describing refugees weeping or simply withdrawing into themselves in shock. The whole team were deeply affected by the disaster but, despite being given the option to leave the mission, the vast majority have stayed. Luwam Bede, a cultural mediator who speaks to refugees in English, French and Tigrinya – one of the dominant languages in Eritrea – is among those who chose to remain. A coffin, containing the body of an unidentified migrant, is transferred off the Bourbon Argos ship STRINGER Italy / Reuters "It's difficult to know what to say to someone who has lost their brother that day," she said. "I don't even know how to begin to prepare myself; I hope that nothing like this happens again, but I know it could at any time." The 29-year-old, from Sweden, is on the receiving end of asylum seekers' trauma, memories, hopes and fears for the journey ahead into Europe. "It's a lot to take in," she said. "They ask a lot of questions about Europe and Italy. They talk about where they've come from and what they've experienced in Libya… they call it hell." Ms Bede and other translators on board give information about where passengers will be taken and how to register as asylum seekers, but with policy constantly shifting in the EU, many questions remain unanswered. "I don't think they're very aware of how difficult it's going to be or the borders," she said. MSF had originally intended to pull back the Bourbon Argos in October but has extended the mission as boats continue coming from North Africa, and Europe seems no closer to offering a safe or legal route to those trying to reach safety on its shores. Recorded refugee deaths in the Mediterranean have hit an all-time high, with almost 4,000 people dying while attempting boat crossings so far this year. A migrant and the Medecins Sans Frontiere (MSF) team leader embrace as migrants disembark from the Bourbon Argos Darrin Zammit Lupi In 2015, there was one death for every 269 refugees who reached European shores, but now the figure stands at one in 88. For the treacherous Central Mediterranean route, it is one in 47 according to the latest UN figures. More than 330,000 people have so far made the journey from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Iraq, with the passage from Libya towards Italy becoming the dominant route since the controversial EU-Turkey deal reduced crossings over the Aegean Sea. The Bourbon Argos is the largest of numerous naval and humanitarian boats patrolling a search and rescue zone off the Libyan coast but numbers will dwindle as winter closes in and weather conditions continue to worsen. Mr Telaro expects more difficult rescues ahead for his crew. "I know that we could face something similar to the last one or even worse than that," he said. "Together we can try to do our best but we will not be able to save everyone." Benjamin Hargreaves, the Bourbon Argos' British deck manager, said the crew have prepared themselves and their ship for all eventualities. He described last week's rescue as "horrific" but that the disaster was only one of many refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean will face. "There's so many situations that can lead to serious trouble and we just have to pick up the pieces when we find them," said the 29-year-old. "Obviously no one should have to see that but if we aren't here, who else will be? Courtesy:businessinsider.com


AFRICAN FASHION IN THE WORLD FASHION INDUSTRY Moving Yet Staggering Questions have always been raised about the lack of international presence of African fashion and its designers. They are gradually matching through runways, but impacting results are yet to be seen. There is more foreign fashion imported into the African continent and very little of its own fashion exported. The incredibly overpowering colors of its culture, which is heavily reflected in its fashion, have often mesmerized many non Africans. But getting and finding their art in this field to the frontlines where you find the Burburrys, the Guiccis and others, remains a puzzle. By Laura Owen April 15, 2015 Many consumers in and out of Africa are becoming interested in its fashion whose path up the stage has often than not been hilly. The few fashion designers here who shine internationally still stagger. Those based in Western countries sometimes make big strides because they have outlets for exposure and “rub shoulders with connoisseurs in the industry, especially when they participate in fashion shows,” says, Candy Mill, an organizer of these shows. “The shows get the world to discover them, even first timers and from that, they start breaking through,” she explains. There are lots of fascinating designers in Africa, some of whom have not even been to school. For this class, the artistic gift of designing is inborn and they sometimes marvel clients with their products. Dionne, a Cameroonian designer, says “Both the professionals and non professionals earn very little hard work put in here because local buyers don’t pay in consideration of product value. They expect us to give them prices similar to what they get for Chinese clothes. When we refuse, they slam our stores in preference of the Chinese products. They don’t think of the time and effort we put in the art that most of these African designs carry,” which kills the creativity in some of the designers. Their governments hesitate to integrate the fashion industry as potential economic booster like gold, and the cotton that some of them export in tons, for others elsewhere to transform into fabulous clothing styles that pull on their fashion industry. “I have sought financial aid from government and other organizations for years, but received nothing. That could have helped me train better in the profession, and expand this business abroad,” complains Kadisha from Ivory Coast. “I have 14 workers in my team, but with no future because we sell mostly for subsistence, yet producing great pieces.” To get going, they have turned towards other fields while pursuing their original trade as part time. Slowdown in the industry in Cameroon encourages importers of Chinese clothing which attracts most clients, not absolutely for value but for the cheap price, for what hardly last as long as the African clothing that could be worn for years. Narrow Outlets Through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and initiatives taken by the Chamber of Commerce and some middle men in respective African countries, fashion products from there are slowly getting out to the world. The internet and TV have of late given visibility to the works of some designers, who right in their factory at home, are contacted by promoters in Europe and America who invite them to exhibitions. The few who are lucky to strike such a deal sooner or later ignore the local markets. They produce and stuck, waiting for the exhibition seasons to travel and sell. Then get back home to continue production. Africans abroad, who take initiatives to organize fashion weeks for them are also great boosters One of them, Adiat Disu Director of the New York African Fashion Week says “There are quite a few designers operating directly out of Africa. At least 50 percent to 75 percent of our designers who showcase in New York’s Africa Fashion Week come from Africa. Important as well are the many designers based in the UK and U.S. who outsource to Africa, working with African designers, tailors, and seamstresses back home.” Some middle men overseas, make contacts and order from them. “It’s unfortunate that when some of them do that, they put their labels on what they have not created and buyers don’t know where these clothes are coming from. If they leave our labels on the clothes, many more middlemen could contact us and place orders,” complains Dionne. These African based designers will have to impose their labels on the clothes and follow up with the middlemen to be sure they are not changed.esigns by Tati Nadi…. TATI NADIR Design And this can succeed better if they constitute a strong force that is able to sign the contracts, get protection and copyright for their brands, and also impose the prices in order to be able to glide through those restricted zones of the first class designers. Iman, former top model, joined former world class famous model Naomi Campbell, to blast exclusion of black models and stylists for so many years. Their campaign, lauched in 2013 has forced some European designers to start welcoming black Despite the odds, more platforms are opening for them to showcase their designs now than was the case a decade back. Various fashion weeks for this purpose are organized in different countries not only in Europe and America but also back in Africa - the London African Fashion Week, the Berlin African Fashion Week, Kenya Fashion Week in Kenya, Swahili Fashion Week in Tanzania, Mercedez Benz African Fashion Week, and more. ad the African fashion designers been more organized, getting themselves into action groups, they would be able to bypass these middlemen, improve on their creativity and broaden their outlets. African governments have to look at this trade as a high income earner that can also raise state revenue. Training facilities or education in fashion design which they have failed to priotise, should be amongst first measures...


AFRICAN FASHION South Africa’s David Tlale, internationally reputed Fashion Designer, based in Johannesberg, South Africa. Africa plays a major role-directly or indirectly- in fashion. You saw it from Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan when she used the kente cloth from Ghana. I think it was two seasons back. And John Galliano took the Masai and put it on the runway and everyone was like 'Wow, this is great!' So, we are a force behind the fashion industry as Africans. Africa is a melting pot of what's happening around the world. People all around the world come here to take Iinspiration and I think it's time that perceptions change about what African fashion is since we have so much culture and diversity. I travel around the world about every other month and see what is happening. Ninety-nine percent of the time when I'm working down Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue in New York City I'll see a store having something inspired by Africa. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Mariétou Mariette Dicko, renown Designer from Mali, advocate for multicultural fashion shows, promotion of African based designers, craftsmanship and African made fabrics. “I’m an African designer who does African fashion, while Black Fashion Week is largely for black designers who do fashion of all types. But we’re all fighting the battle in our own way. If I had the means, I would be doing more to promote the fabrics of Africa. We don’t need to try to fight white designers on their own territory. We have our own market waiting for us and we can adapt our fabrics to all cultures. I try to do things that bring value to Africa. I’m really not interested being another Yves Saint Laurent or any kind of star. That’s just my way of seeing things.There are African designers who are using European fabrics when they could be incorporating the whole range of African fabrics into their creations.” ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Luanda based Angolan Nadir Tati, sells bespoke bridal wears and couture dresses from $500 to $10,000. She designs for celebraties, state figures including her countries first lady Ana Paula Dos Santos, with whom she works closely for her designs. “She (Ana Paula Dos Santos) owns many of my dresses, and I’m constantly working on new creations for her. Everything fits her well and it’s a pleasure working with her since she understands fashion and is one of my main sources of inspiration. When I go to her house, we talk a lot and exchange ideas for dresses. The fact that she can afford brands like Armani and Prada, and still decides to wear my pieces, is an honour. In Angola, we’re learning fashion just now…. a thing that European countries and America have for years…both consumers and designers are still learning about fashion. We don’t have a fashion school here, so my school is Africa. I like to tell the story of Africa on international runways, which is why it’s important for me to also show in Europe and other parts of the world. I want Angolan fashion to be on top. We need to be seen everywhere…A big part of my success comes from the fact that I never repeat creations – everything is bespoke. We have a lot of rich people here, but when they spend, they spend because they’re looking for exclusivity.”