Just before the sun dipped into the Mediterranean on Saturday, rescuers spotted a tiny wooden boat on the horizon. It turned out to contain five young Libyans fleeing violence and turmoil, who were waving their arms for help.
The crew of the Seefuchs plucked them from the old fishing boat, gave them water and couscous, and one of the men, 26-year-old Hamza Tekbali, explained why they had fled their country.
“Libya is terrible,” Tekbali told Reuters as he waited to be transferred to an Italian coast guard vessel. “In Libya, if you do not kill, they will kill you,” he said, adding that he feared he would be sent straight back home.
The Seefuchs, a ship operated by the humanitarian group Sea-Eye, carried the men to Catania, Italy, on Wednesday along with 16 other Libyans picked up on Sunday.
Already this year, some 800 Libyans have reached Italy by sea, more than double the number for the whole of 2016, according to data collected by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).