CBC documentary captures life of asylum seekers on rescue boat

For nine days, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed chronicled the desperation of asylum seekers and the efforts of rescue workers, filming it all for a documentary for the CBC's fifth estate. Ayed shares the stories of what she saw and who she met.

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Earlier in October, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed spent over a week on board a rescue boat that picked up 300 asylum seekers off the coast of Libya.

The rescue boat, known as Responder, is run by the Red Cross and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a privately-funded NGO also known as MOAS.

Ayed's time on the ship will be featured on a new episode of the fifth estate, Oct. 28, on CBC Television. She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that Responder has rescued an estimated 16,000 people between June and September and 30,000 for the whole year.

​Ayed explains smaller rescue boats head towards dinghies. In one case, 170 people were on board. Rescuers pass out lifejackets, and then the ship sidles up beside the dinghy.
Among the first of some 6,000 people to be rescued off the coast of Libya on the #med (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

"There's constant instruction telling people to stay calm because you can imagine, of course, that after eight hours in this particular case on the sea wondering where you are and whether you're going to be safe that people are desperate to get off."

Ayed says around 300 people on Responder were from Bangladesh, Nigeria, Morocco, Eritrea, and Syria. Many of them say "the journey was the easiest part" since they had already been through a lot.

"That is something that I definitely open my eyes to on this trip, is listening to the stories of the people and what they went through."

When smugglers are filling boats with people, there's no guarantee you will stay with your family, Ayed explains. Some are even shoved on at gunpoint with bags over their heads, and are often misled about the conditions they will endure when they are travelling.

Ayed says her experience personally sitting with people on the boat and listening to their stories, made her realize how risky the situation was for these people so desperate to start a new life.

"I was struck by just how stunned people are when they get on the ship. They can't believe they survived."

​Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins.