Women who flee from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea have mostly experienced things which, for us, are unimaginable: during the journey and in Libya they have been exploited and abused in many ways. They experience sexualised violence again and again. Some have become pregnant as a result of rape. Others flee with their young children to offer them a better life or protection from violence, such as female genital mutilation (FGM).
That is why it is important for us to provide special protection for women rescued from distress at sea and their children on board our rescue ship. For this purpose, we have a ‘Women Shelter*, i.e. a separate shelter only for women and their children. No men, also not from the rescue team, are allowed to enter it. Here the women can feel safe, often for the first time in years.
Of great importance for the women is also the position of the midwife on board. Experienced midwives come on board on a voluntary basis for a rescue mission to be there specifically for the women. Pregnant women can be professionally assessed by the midwife, usually for the first time. They have the opportunity to talk about their problems and complaints and with the help of the foetal Doppler on board, the midwife can check the heartbeat of their unborn child and make it audible for the women so they can hear their child. A mobile ultrasound probe is also available for a medical assessment if needed. If a problem is detected that requires immediate treatment, the midwife, together with the ship’s doctor, can arrange for evacuation and admission to a hospital in Italy. A gynaecological chair is available for the assessments, which provides the necessary privacy in the lockable anteroom to the “Women Shelter” and is provided with a privacy screen.
For the May/June 2023 rescue mission, Holly, 27, from the U.K., is on board Humanity 1. She is looking forward to her work with the women, but is also prepared for the highs and lows she might face as the women share their experiences with her.
Thanks to the assessments, treatments and careful, sensitive questions about general health and what has happened to them, the midwife in many cases becomes the confidante of many female refugees. Sometimes they open up and speak for the first time about what they had to deal with alone until then. Thus, the midwife not only fulfils her medical duty in the narrower sense, but in the case of these women, she also fulfils to a special degree the goal of SOS Humanity to protect and support survivors.
There are rescues where only a few women and no pregnant women are rescued from the unseaworthy boats and brought on board Humanity 1. In these cases, the midwife primarily takes care of the health of the women and children present and supports the doctor and paramedic in the treatment of all rescued persons in the onboard clinic, distributes tablets against seasickness on deck and takes care of the well-being of all – including the men.
In addition to the midwife, the rest of the care team, consisting of the care coordinator, protection specialist, mental health specialist, cultural mediator doctor and paramedic or nurse, takes care of the health of the rescued.
To ensure the medical care of the rescued on board we need 125 Euro per day.