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Foreign Correspondent: Sept 16

Italy wants to stop boat migration -but Spain's Open Arms yacht has a mission.

This week on Foreign Correspondent, Eric Campbell’s report “The Cruel Sea” looks at a Spanish yacht saving the lives of asylum seekers in a political storm.

Oscar Camps’ day job is as a lifeguard on the busy beaches of Barcelona, Spain.

But there’s another group of people at sea who need help, and he sees it as his duty to offer it.

“Nothing is more important than to protect life at sea”, says Oscar. “Protecting life is not a crime, it is a duty”.

In summer when the Mediterranean is calm, the sea becomes Europe’s deadliest migrant crossing, as people flee Africa for a better life.

For the crew of Barcelona-based rescue group Open Arms, it’s time to set sail.

Director and founder, Oscar Camps, and his crew of trained lifeguards, know that the consequences for those fleeing can be fatal: “Thousands of deaths every year, between two and three thousand each year, repeatedly and continuously.”

But Italy wants to stop boat migration and in April it impounded Open Arms’ rescue ship. In defiance, the crew is taking out a yacht called The Astral.

Reporter Eric Campbell joins the crew on The Astral on a dramatic and dangerous journey of search and rescue on the Mediterranean.

They meet boatloads of people from different countries and with different stories but all have one purpose: destination Europe.

One of the first scenes they come across is a tiny boat with more than 70 men, women and children. Helpless and floating in the dark, one migrant who came from as far as Zimbabwe says, “We are suffering. We are suffering too much in our home country.” They are all desperate to find a better life.

They come across a sinking boatload of young Tunisians, including minors, fleeing after a coup in their country.

They encounter a people smuggler lying about a dying baby to trick them into mounting a rescue.

And they come up against Italy and the EU’s increasingly hard-line policy on asylum seekers, even paying Libyans to turn boats back at gunpoint.

Disembarking in Sicily, Campbell talks to migrants who’ve already made the perilous journey but now regret it as life in Europe is so tough for them.

They have a warning for migrants: don’t come! But the boats keep coming.

But for those aboard The Astral, their only concern is saving lives. After two weeks, the yacht conducts 15 rescue mission and helps 400 migrants.

“No matter what their motivations are, why they left, why they flee, persecution, misery, war, it doesn’t matter, they don’t have to die abandoned at sea”, says Oscar.

Thursday 16 September at 8pm on ABC.

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