Philanthropist couple expand its refugee rescue mission to Aegean, Asia

Christopher and Regina Catrambone set up the Migrant Offshore Aid Station to save refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Now they are expanding their efforts.

Umit Bektas/Reuters
Refugees aboard a dinghy sail off for the Greek island of Lesbos as they try to travel from the Turkish territorial waters of the North Aegean Sea Nov. 9.

A Malta-based rescue mission for drowning migrants, set up by a couple of wealthy philanthropists, is expanding its operations to the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, crossed by thousands of migrants every day.

"We are expanding thanks to the overwhelming support we have received from all over the world in the past months," Christopher Catrambone, co-founder of Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), told the Times of Malta.

European Union leaders began a two-day migration summit in Malta Nov. 11, their latest effort to cope with the biggest influx of migrants since World War II. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expects 1 million migrants to reach Europe this year.

Mr. Catrambone, an American based in Malta, and his Italian wife, Regina, bought their first ship last year and used it to rescue migrants from rickety boats heading for southern Europe, mainly from Libya.

They said they felt compelled to act following an appeal by Pope Francis after several hundred African migrants drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Around 6,800 migrants crossed the Aegean to Greece every day in October, the vast majority of them from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, according to the UNHCR.

One of the new boats will be named Aylan after Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who was photographed dead on a beach near the Turkish resort town of Bodrum in September, generating outrage and sympathy across Europe.

The other will be named Galip after Aylan's older brother, who also drowned trying to reach Greece.

As well as the Aegean mission, the couple plan to renew the mission in the central Mediterranean and establish a new operation in Southeast Asia, where Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar (Burma).

"We now plan to have a presence in all three major migrant crossing routes. Each life we save is a testament to everybody who has donated to turn MOAS into the global NGO it is today," Catrambone told the Times of Malta Nov. 10.

Roughly as many asylum seekers arrived in Europe by sea in October alone – 218,000 – as made the crossing in all of 2014.

• Reporting By Joseph D'Urso, editing by Tim Pearce. This story originally appeared on the website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org.

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