We asked refugees saved at sea: Who is the first person you want to call?

This post was written by Jenelle Eli, an American Red Cross staff member who spent a month aboard the Responder rescue ship in 2016. The vessel — funded by the Red Cross Red Crescent network and Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) — patrolled and conducted rescue missions along the Central Mediterranean route between North Africa and Italy.

We asked refugees rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, “Who is the first person you want to call when you get to land?” And each one of them, without fail, had the same answer: “My mom.”

The migrants in this video nearly drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, but were rescued and cared for by the Red Cross Red Crescent MOAS. In search of safety and a better life, they had boarded rubber rafts and wooden boats that put them in grave danger. Last year alone, more than 5,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea as they attempted this journey. This year, the sea has already claimed more than 1,300 lives.

Mothers are top-of-mind to many refugees crossing between Libya and Europe. But moms aren’t always on the receiving end of phone calls. Often, mothers are the ones attempting the dangerous journey.

During my time aboard a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, mothers spoke to me about their reasons for leaving home: violence, war, hunger, economic hopelessness. Some said they wanted their daughters to have better options than they had growing up. Others expressed a desire to work and send money home so their kids could attend school.

One mother — just rescued from a rubber raft — sat on our ship’s deck, holding her 2-year-old daughter tight. Trying to keep her warm. Examining her tear-filled face. Amazed, no doubt, that they both survived the harrowing trip from the Libyan coast.

Another mother, Jamilah, was in a state of shock after being rescued. “I couldn’t imagine that I would make it,” she said of the sea crossing. Originally from Benin, she spent the past 5 months in Libya — where she and other women were kidnapped and beaten. She hadn’t spoken with her twin daughters — age 3 — since her kidnapping. Jamilah was eager to make a call back home to Benin.

Many refugees displaced from their homes have been separated from their families. Through our free and confidential service, called Restoring Family Links, we work with people to search for and locate their loved ones. We think most moms (and their kids) would agree: Giving families peace of mind is a critical part of disaster relief and recovery.

To begin a search, contact your local Red Cross — the critical link in your community to the vast network of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. For program information and general inquiries use the International Reconnecting Families Inquiry Form or call our free national helpline at 844–782–9441.