As migrant workers, the injured and the displaced lined up Saturday to board the Red Star 1, everything they had left with them was packed in small bags. The ship’s trip marked the fourth rescue mission to Misurata arranged by the International Organization for Migration.
In the city, the violence continued. Thirty-one people were killed and more than 80 injured on Saturday, according to doctors at the Hikma hospital in Misurata, where the streets have been renamed for those who have died in the nearly two-month-long siege.
On Red Star 1, Jeremy Haslam, who works for IOM, an intergovernmental organization, looked around, his eyes tired and face drawn. He made difficult choices about who could board the blue-and-white ship for the 18-hour trip to Benghazi, the de facto capital of the Libyan opposition, and who would be turned away.
The boat could take no more than 1,000 passengers. At times, more than 10,000 foreign workers had been sleeping at the port. Now about 2,400 are in the camp, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. But more come every day.
“It’s heartbreaking every time I say no,” Haslam said.
As the ship pulled away, a Libyan family clutching brown suitcases and pink blankets watched their hope for an escape leave the docks. They would try again tomorrow. Maybe they would pile on to a small fishing boat, maybe a ship funded by the government of Qatar.
Omar Hussein walked to the port three weeks ago in an ill-fitting green suit. The Niger national, who worked in a Misurata shop that sold curtains and kitchenware, had been stranded amid the fighting. As bombs exploded around him and gunfire filled the air, he walked for three hours, toward what he hoped would be his escape route.
On Saturday night, sitting on a wooden chair in the cruise ship’s cafeteria, he dozed off. The mostly Albanian and Romanian crew had turned in for the night, after serving a late lunch of pasta and green bean salad. Hundreds of other men from Niger slept on the green carpeting of the top deck and the wooden dance floor of a disco. Their bodies blanketed every space of the floor.
“I’ve been waiting for so long,” Hussein said, holding his gold-rimmed glasses in his hand. “I was so scared. There were so many bombs.”
This was the first part of his journey home.
All his worldly possessions were in the cargo hold below, along with the injured, sprawled out on mattresses. Many had shrapnel wounds to their legs, arms and other parts of their bodies. Intravenous drips were attached to some of the wounded, as family members sat with them.