A baby who survived almost two days without food and water was among more than 300 migrants that have been rescued in Sicily.
The infant had been crammed amongst men, women and children from sub-Saharan Africa who paid people smugglers for a voyage on a dinghy packed so tightly that even life jackets were not permitted.
Migrants landing in Italy told how they had been beaten and threatened with guns by Libyan gangs before beginning the journey across the Mediterranean that has killed hundreds of people in the past year alone.
Two small vessels, left to drift in international waters by smugglers careful to avoid detection, were rescued by a coastguard vessel that brought them safely into the port of Messina.
After Red Cross medics boarded the ship to attend to those most in danger of succumbing to days of starvation and dehydration, pregnant women and young children were the first to be brought to safety on dry land.
Out of the 306 people on board, 13 were taken straight to hospital for urgent care and 27 passengers were discovered to be unaccompanied children.
A baby was carried screaming along the gangplank by an aid worker as an unexpected storm sent rain hammering on to the deck.
Migrants who had travelled with the child from Libya said it was the first time the starved infant had made a sound.
Hamidou, a 17-year-old from Mali, told The Independent the baby had been travelling with his mother and father.
“We didn't hear it cry the whole time,” he added. “They gave us no food or water, nothing.”
The teenager was travelling with his seven cousins, who ended their long journey sat in a tent run by charity Save the Children.
When asked why they left Mali, Hamidou said they fled a “big conflict” to get to Libya, only to find violence and lawlessness spreading there, too.
He and his cousins had heard talk of Italy on the television and among friends.
“We want to stay in Italy, we feel safe here,” he said. “We want to send money home, we are going to stay together like a family.”
Their journey had taken five months and four days, seeing the teenagers walking and being driven through Algeria and Libya by ruthless criminal gangs.
More than 90 people made the journey with them from Mali to Algeria, then 45 more to Libya and 120 on a small dinghy embarking under the cover of darkness near Tripoli to take them to Europe.
Hamidou and his seven cousins had strength in numbers compared to the thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers who risk their lives making the same journey.
But that did not stop them being tortured and extorted by gangs.
“They beat us in Libya, they held guns to our heads,” he said. “They made us give them money and forced us to work.”
And the two nights and one full day spent at sea was no respite. When asked to describe the conditions on the smugglers' dinghy, the boys squeezed together with their arms flat at their sides and mimed sitting on top of each other.
“We were scared when we were on the boat but we didn't care because we wanted to come to Italy,” Hamidou said.
“We are just so happy. We want to tank everyone who has helped us.”
The boys were among the last of the migrants to be packed on to coaches to be taken to reception centres scattered across Sicily, where they will be given the information, education and legal advice necessary to start a new life.
Migrants' desperate boat journeys to Europe
Migrants' desperate boat journeys to Europe
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Migrants climb in the back of a lorry on the A16 highway leading to the Eurotunnel in Calais, June 2015
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A police officer sprays tear gas to migrants trying to access the Channel Tunnel on the A16 highway in Calais, northern France, June 2015
PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
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Migrants jump out of a lorry after being discovered by French gendarmerie officers
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A migrant sits under the trailer of a lorry
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A Belgian navy sailor passes life vests to migrants sitting in a rubber boat as they approach the Belgian Navy Vessel Godetia, June 2015
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Migrants on the Belgian Navy vessel Godetia after they were saved during a search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, June 2015
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Iraqis wait as they are detained by Hungarian police after crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border illegally near the village of Asotthalom, Hungary, June 2015
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Syrian refugees walking on train tracks through Macedonia on the Western Balkans migration route, after entering Europe through Greece, June 2015
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A group of migrants huddle together during an operation to remove them from the Italian-French border in the Italian city of Ventimiglia. Italy and France engaged in a war of words as a standoff over hundreds of Africans offered a graphic illustration of Europe's migration crisis. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano described images of migrants perched on rocks at the border town of Ventimiglia after being refused entry to France as a "punch in the face for Europe", June 2015
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A migrant is carried by Italian police in Ventimiglia, Italy. Police reportedly removed migrants from under a railway bridge, June 2015
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A Syrian child holds a drawing as he waits to disembark from Belgian Navy vessel Godetia at the Augusta port, Italy. Around 250 migrants from Syria arrived at the Sicilian harbour from a Damascus refugee camp, June 2015
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A dinghy overcrowded with Afghan immigrants arrived on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, May 2015
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An Afghan child migrant is helped off a rib on the gReek island of Kos, May 2015
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An Afghan migrant girl holds the hand of a woman as they arrive on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, May 2015
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Afghan migrants crossed part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, May 2015
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Afghan migrants arrive on a beach of Kos, May 2015
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Rescuers help children to disembark in the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo, Italy in April 2015
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A boat transporting migrants arrives in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at sea, April 2015
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Armed Forces of Malta personnel in protective clothing carry the body of a dead immigrant off Italian coastguard ship Bruno Gregoretti as surviving migrants watch in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, April 2015
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Rescued migrants talk to a member of the Malta Order after a fishing boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, is brought ashore along with 23 others retreived by the Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti at Boiler Wharf, Senglea in Malta, April 2015
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A boat of would-be immigrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Most of those crossing the Mediterranean headed to Italy in December 2014
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The Sierra Leone-flagged Ezadeen vessel, carrying hundreds of migrants, is towed by the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Tyr in rough seas in the Mediterranean sea off Italy's south coast in January 2015
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Hundreds of migrants seen on board the decks of the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M cargo ship - believed to be carrying 700 illegal immigrant altogether after it docked at the Italian port of Gallipoli in the early hours of 31 December 2014
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Hundreds of migrants seen on board Blue Sky M after it docked at the Italian port of Gallipoli in December 2014
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A crowded boat of rescued African migrants off the coast of Sicily in October 2014
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Migrants of sub-Saharan origin being rescued last month as part of the Mare Nostrum operation in Italy in October 2014
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An Italian Customs Police boat takes illegal immigrants on board off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy in September 2014. Some 40,000 migrants have died since the year 2000, more than half of them in the Mediterranean
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Migrants are pictured on an Italian navy ship after being rescued in open international waters in the Mediterranean Sea between the Italian and the Libyan coasts in August 2014
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Firemen and policemen evacuate the dead bodies of migrants from a boat on July 1st, 2014 in the port of Pozzallo, Sicily
GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images
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An Italian navy motor boat approaches a boat full of migrants making its way to Europe. The boat was carrying almost 600 people – but some 30 died during the journey in June 2014
They were joined by two 13-year-old boys and a girl aged 15, who was deemed too traumatised to speak to journalists gathered on the dock.
Despite the horrors of the voyage, all aboard the coastguard ship survived their long journey.
Migrants who arrived the day before were not so lucky. The bodies of four women and one man were found on a rubber boat carrying more than 100 other people.
Medics from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said they were believed to have died of severe dehydration during the 13-hour voyage, although other sources said a stampede caused by panic in the locked hold may have caused their deaths.
They were witnessed by relatives and friends, including a young boy believed to be the son of a woman who died.
Two small children who had lost their father, three who had seen their mother die and numerous other migrants deprived of their partners and siblings were being counselled by MSF psychologists.
A memorial service to the dead was carried out on one of the organisation's rescue ships, the Argos, with survivors who listened as the names of their lost fellow passengers were announced.
A spokesperson for MSF called for a bigger search and rescue operation where smugglers are launching migrant vessels near the Libyan coast.
“MSF continues to call for member states to ensure adequate resources are allocated as long as necessary for search and rescue operations in order to prevent more deaths,” she added. “As long as there is a lack of safe and legal channels for people to reach Europe, vulnerable people will continue to be forced to make dangerous journeys in overcrowded boats.”
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