Several days ago, humanitarian rescue worker Daniel Calvelo saw his week bookended with death and new life. The 26-year-old was working as part of Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms. They were doing search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea, a job that is sometimes dangerous, often devastating, and occasionally full of joy and hope. Calvelo told Reuters that “A week ago, I collected a dead body from the Mediterranean for the first time, and [Saturday] I carried a new life.” The new life Calvelo was referring to was a 4-day-old baby, rescued along with 480 other African migrants.
The baby’s parents are a 29-year-old Nigerian woman and a 34-year-old man from Ghana. The couple had been living in Libya for the past few years and chose to flee to Europe in search of a better life once their child was born. Baby and parents were drifting on a crowded rubber boat before being rescued by Proactiva Open Arms. Along with the other rescued migrants, the family was expected to arrive in Italy earlier this week. According to the baby’s father, they hope to start a new life in France or Germany. The journey this young family took is a notoriously treacherous one. The International Migration Organization estimates that over 600 migrants have already died this year and around 5,000 migrants lost their lives last year. News of this newborn making the journey safely recalls stories of babies found dead in the water in the recent past. Holding the newborn must have been a moving experience for Daniel Calvelo, but it likely won’t erase the memories of the dead body from earlier in the week. It also likely won’t be the last dead body he encounters in this work.
Despite the known dangers and risks, countless families from North and Central Africa continue to make the journey. That alone suggests the heartbreaking horror of their lives there. For a family to take their newborn child on a treacherous and uncertain journey like this as a more attractive option than seeing the child grow up in their homeland paints a bleak picture. An alarming number of migrant youth make the journey alone, tens of thousands of them in 2016. In fact, in 2016 the majority of youth migrants who made it to Italy had gotten there without adult family members.
For those migrants that survive the journey, the road is not an easy one. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have arrived safely in Europe over the last few years but they are rarely welcomed with open arms. They struggle to find work, shelter, acceptance. Many refugees settle in crowded camps. Others try to survive in the shadows. Some do find that better life they seek. Others are like a 17-year-old Nigerian girl named Peace, who told the New York Times that, had she known how difficult it would be, “I would have continued suffering in Nigeria.” We can only hope that the newborn and his parents do find that better life they sought.