What do you carry with you? © MSF

‘What do you carry with you?’

Little treasures, prized possessions

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) conducts search and rescue activities on the Mediterranean Sea to support people in distress who are fleeing crises. We see people from all over the world taking this dangerous journey. While many people flee with only the clothes they have on, some manage to carry small objects with them from their country of origin through many harrowing situations, objects often imbued with deep meaning and emotional weight. During rescue activities, we asked survivors:

“Do you carry any prized belonging with you and what do they mean to you?”

Hamid, 27 years old, from Pakistan. © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Hamid, 27 years old, from Pakistan

“The ring and necklace I have with me are gifts from my two brothers. Having them with me makes me feel connected to my family wherever I am. When I put them on, I feel I am talking to my brothers, as if I could see them. During my stay in Libya, I didn’t wear the ring or necklace because I know they will be stripped away from me. But when I arrived on Geo Barents, the first thing I did was to put them on because here, it’s a trustworthy place.”

Hamid is from the Punjab region, in Pakistan. He left his country in 2022, travelling first to Dubai, then Egypt and Libya. In Libya, he was working in a gas station before he attempted the sea crossing. Hamid was rescued by MSF, along with over 50 other people, on Nov. 17, 2023 from a wooden boat in distress.

Dilba, 30 years old, from Syria. © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Dilba, 30 years old, from Syria

“I have photographs of my husband, my children, my siblings, my best friends, etc. Even one that was on my university student card. The one that is the most precious to me is the one of my father, who passed away. I carry all these photographs with me to keep the memories alive. With the war in Syria, everyone went to a different place. Some of my friends went to Norway, others to the Netherlands, some stayed in Damascus, I went to Kobanî. I had to quit university, leave my neighbourhood, my friends, the place I grew up in. The war dispersed us and even though I haven’t seen them for years, with the photographs, their memories stay.”

Dilba was rescued by MSF Feb. 5, 2024 while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded wooden boat in distress with about 130 other people.

Khadijah, 35 years old, born in Morocco but used to live in Libya. © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Khadijah, 35 years old, born in Morocco, used to live in Libya

“The bags are precious to me, they contain various traditional herbs and plants (lavender, celery, clove, cress) prepared by my grandmother. We use them in Morocco to treat the hair and skin, and some of them to help the digestion. I have nothing left that would connect me to my family, especially my grandmother, except this. When we were on the boat, I didn’t care about losing my documents, but I didn’t want to lose the bags.”

Khadijah used to work as a waitress during weddings in Libya. She lost her first husband and parents in a bombing in Libya. After this and several other violent incidents, she decided to leave the country. Khadija, her second husband and their daughters tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in July 2023, but they were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and imprisoned in a detention centre. Khadijah’s family was rescued by MSF on Nov. 30, 2023, from a fiberglass boat in distress.

Precious, 27 years old, from Nigeria. © Annalisa Ausilio/MSF

Precious, 27 years old, from Nigeria

“I was scared of losing my SIM card, it contains the phone numbers of my family and loved ones. I protected it during the toughest moments of the journey; it’s the only link I have left with the people I left behind in my country. In Libya during the detention, I hid it in my T-shirt’s seams and it worked, they did not find it. I still have it with me and I am very grateful for that.” 

Precious left Nigeria in January 2022 due to the increase of violence and unstable political situation. She spent 10 months in Libya, where she faced violence and detention. She was rescued by MSF in the middle of the night on Oct.15 2023, from an overcrowded rubber boat. It was her fourth sea crossing attempt to reach Europe.

Amer*, 31 years old, from Syria. © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Amer*, 31 years old, from Syria

“At some stages of my life, when I was suffering and about to give up and surrender, these little items gave me hope. They reminded me why I moved to look for a better future for me and my girlfriend, who is waiting for me in my home country. These items carry a huge amount of memories and meaning. It was hard to carry them all the way and across borders to ensure they didn’t get ruined. I carried them when I crossed the desert and walked through valleys. I was ready to let go of the clothes I had but didn’t want to lose these. The wooden piece has been damaged because of the heat and humidity, but I will fix it. My girlfriend gave me this notebook because I love writing poetry and literature.”

Translation from Arabic of writing on wooden artwork: Only love keeps us at home and abroad.

Amer* and his brother Khalil*, 26 years old, were living in Damascus in Syria until 2021, when they left for Libya to attempt crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Amer and Khalil were rescued by MSF on Nov. 30, 2023, from a fiberglass boat in distress.

*Names changed at survivors’ request.