Kiwi aid worker returns from Mediterranean

Rosemarie North (Newshub.)
Rosemarie North (Newshub.)

A New Zealand aid worker has just returned from what she's described as "hell at sea".

Rosemarie North is part of a team that has been rescuing migrants trying to get to Europe by boat - a crisis that's getting worse by the day.

She was working in the middle of the Mediterranean - a long way from her home in Christchurch.

And it's a long way from home for these people too - migrants fleeing to Europe - on what are all too often deadly voyages.

"We had one boat yesterday and it didn't even have an engine. It was this giant deflating rubber dingy with more than 150 people on it," she says.

It's harrowing work. Most of the migrant boats are spotted in the dead of night. Then rescuers use flashlights and binoculars to try and locate them.

"When you look out at these dinghies looming in the darkness you think, 'Shivers, that's 150 lives at risk right now,'" she says.

"We have the power of life and death. And when people are on board you look around sometimes and it's eerie because if these people hadn't been rescued, they would all be dead."

Ms North has been working with a Red Cross team that's helping out on board a ship called The Responder. In three weeks, they've rescued more than 1000 migrants.

And now, on the last leg of the mission, 314 are being taken back to Italy.

"When people first come on board they can be in quite a state. They can be euphoric, they can be distraught, because they don't know what happened to the rest of their loved ones; they're often dehydrated, exhausted and really scared," she says.

Ms North has got to know many of the migrants, hearing their tragic and brutal backstories. Many are suffering in ways she can't comprehend.

"One thing I'm convinced of is that ordinary people like you or me would make the same choice if we were faced with the same threat," she says.

More than 3000 migrants have died year trying to get to Europe. But that's only the reported deaths. The real number is far greater.

She hopes sharing her experiences at sea will help others understand that these are simply people in search of a better life - and they need help.