Great Britain

Migrants’ wedding rings lost at sea found by rescue boat weeks later

An Algerian couple who lost their wedding bands in a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, last month have been shocked to see the rings returned weeks later, along with the last of their few possessions.

In late October, Ahmed, 25, and Doudou, 20, were among dozens of migrants and asylum seekers to be rescued by a fisherman after the boat they were travelling on from Libya, where Ahmed had been working, capsized. 

At least five people onboard the boat, including a young child, did not survive the shipwreck and both Ahmed and Doudou, who did not wish for their last names to be shared, felt lucky to escape with their lives. 

They never expected to see their wedding bands, which had been tucked into a backpack for safekeeping, again, believing the invaluable rings to be forever lost at sea.

That all changed this month, however, when a rescue ship operated by NGO Open Arms came across remnants of the crash, including the backpack. 

It was a longshot, but noticing that the rings had been inscribed with two names, rescue ship operators decided to put out a call with relief providers on the ground, asking them to see if any survivors of the recent crash might be able to identify the rings. 

Ahmad Al Rousan, a cultural mediator working with Médecins Sans Frontières, was one of the relief providers to be sent a picture of the rings.

Initially, he told The Independent, he did not believe their owners would be found. 

“I told them, ‘its’ really very difficult,'” he said. However, he put out the call anyway, forwarding the photo on to the migrants and asylum seekers he had met following the October crash. 

He was shocked, he said, when one of the people he had provided support to following the crash, Ahmed, responded right away. 

“I was really very surprised,” Al Rousan said. “Open Arms finds this bag in the Mediterranean and then it belongs to someone that we met. It’s really something.”

Open Arms president Riccardo Gatti was also surprised by the discovery, telling The Guardian: “We thought it was proof of yet another love story that ended up at the bottom of the sea."

“Unfortunately we find many of these. Most of the time suitcases and bags, floating in the sea, are nothing more than symbols of yet another journey that began in Libya and ended in tragedy," he said. 

Italy’s Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) boat with migrants enter in the harbour of the Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa on July 30, 2020. Thousands of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are estimated to have risked the journey across the Mediterranean Sea this year.

Al Rousan said Ahmed and Doudou were glad to be reunited with the rings and the few possessions they had when they left Libya. 

However, he said the couple will never forget how much was lost that day in the October shipwreck. 

Speaking of his initial phone call with Ahmed, Al Rousan said “he really was so happy to find his things". 

However, the 25-year-old said nothing could change the fact some of those who had risked the journey to Europe with him “are not with us anymore”. 

Both Ahmed and Doudou, Al Rousan said, are haunted by the memory of the shipwreck. 

Being reunited with their wedding bands has offered a small moment of relief, but the trauma of that day, he said, will be with the couple for years to come.

Over the past year, Europe has seen a rise in the number of people risking the journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

A recent BBC analysis found that nearly 8,000 people have so far made the journey this year.

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