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[Report] Women at sea, experiences of women rescued by SOS MEDITERRANEE



Their names are Angèle, Maha or Aya. Their origins, ages and stories may differ, but what they all have in common is the experience of having braved death in the central Mediterranean – the deadliest maritime migration route in the world since 2014 – to escape the “libyan hell”, as they all call it.  

Some are already grandmothers, others are pregnant or have young children. There are also teenagers who have left childhood far too soon, thrown onto the roads of exile without the protection of a parent. The majority are travelling alone, making them twice as vulnerable. All of them were rescued by the SOS MEDITERRANEE rescue teams, taken on board the Aquarius or the Ocean Viking rescue ships. There, they told the story of part of their journey before disembarking in a place of safety, in accordance with maritime law. But what do we know about these women? 

“We need to establish the role of women in migration because we sometimes forget, but (…) around the world, half of migrants are women. On these particularly perilous maritime routes, women represent between a fifth and a sixth of arrivals…” explained Camille Schmoll, Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) at the conference “Women in the Mediterranean: faces and migration journeys“, organised by SOS MEDITERRANEE in March 2021.

“The mortality of women in migration is much higher than that of men. There is a lack of information to quantify this situation, but we know that because of gender-related vulnerability – when we find the bodies and are able to determine the sex of the victims – we see that women are much more likely to die at sea or in the desert than men,” explains the researcher.  


From February 2016 to December 2022, SOS MEDITERRANEE rescued 37,136 people in the central Mediterranean, including 5,489 adult women, i.e.: 15% of those rescued. 


Often invisible, these women show extraordinary resilience and moral strength. We wanted to let them speak in order to give them back part of the humanity and singularity they have been deprived of. These women’s experiences of migration were collected onboard the Aquarius between 2016 and 2018 and then onboard the Ocean Viking from 2019. During this time at sea, they shared their stories, deepest secrets and fears but also their hope for a better life with women from our teams on board. Such moments were very emotional. 

This collection of testimonies aims to make the voices of these women heard, as well as sharing some basic understanding coming from the stories collected on board. It also aims to pay tribute to these women whose courage and strength are an example for the whole of humanity. We hope that it will contribute to raising public awareness of the importance of setting up a European rescue fleet in the central Mediterranean to avoid thousands of deaths at sea. 



Some of these stories include descriptions of, graphic violence: torture, rape, extortion, killing and shipwreck. We prefer to warn you in advance. 


The material in this collection of testimonies is drawn exclusively from what we were told onboard from the people rescued since 2016 and from our observations at sea. However, many intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have extensively documented and corroborated these accounts, particularly regarding the violence – including sexual violence – suffered during the migration process, both in Libya and at sea. 

All the first names of the women who testify have been changed to preserve the anonymity and safety of the survivors. 

 Read the full report here: