But before fiction, I wrote other things. I wrote about the places I had visited, the people I had met, the events I had witnessed.
These pieces were for my family. They were for my friends. They were, in many ways, for myself.
This week I had my first article published in the Irish Times. I have written such pieces before, but always on behalf of other people. Putting my name to this one felt both freeing, and terrifying.
It was an article that grew out of a month I spent in Greece, speaking to volunteers involved in sea rescue efforts. These are people doing courageous, unpaid and essential work, saving extremely vulnerable people and families from drowning. And they are being blocked at every turn.
When saving lives become a crime, The Irish Times, 27 Oct 2018
The duty to assist vessels in distress is one of the most important rules of international maritime law. But in the Mediterranean, such assistance is increasingly being compromised by political pressure.
In June, the NGO rescue ship Astral was told by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome to stand back and let the Libyan coast guard respond to a distress call from a refugee boat, only to hear afterwards that the approximately 100 people aboard had drowned. “The bodies of three children under the age of five have been retrieved,” said the IOM’s Christine Petre in a heart-breaking statement. “How many missing or dead total, we don't know for now.”
Volunteer Jutta Nagel, who was aboard the NGO rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 in April, described receiving a similar order when responding to a distress call.
“We arrived and began handing out life-vests, making sure people were safe,” she said. One man held out a 12-day-old baby, pleading with Nagel to take it.
At that moment, the Libyan coast guard arrived on scene. Nagel and her colleagues had to retreat, because – as directed by the coordination centre – the coast guard had priority over the rescue.
When the people aboard heard they were to be returned to Libya, a country with an active slave trade and where widespread violence and even torture has been recorded against refugees, many of them jumped into the sea. For one heart-stopping moment, Nagel saw the man consider throwing the baby in the water too.
Read the rest of the article on the website of the Irish Times.
|3-year-old Mourhaf and his family land|
on Lesbos island, Greece. (Credit: Andrew McConnell/ UNHCR)
[postscript: It's been extremely heartening to hear from people who have read the article and want to do something as a result. Here are three simple things you can do today:
- Support Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, either by volunteering or donating.
- If you are an EU citizen, sign the formal European Commission-registered petition, to ensure that rescue work is not criminalised.
- If you are an EU citizen, drop your MEP an email. It's simple to do and is the single best way to change their mind. If you're not sure what to write, link to the article below and say you have concerns about how the EU is dealing with rescue work and would like to know what they are personally doing to address this. Here's a list of MEPs in Ireland and their emails.]