A woman who gave birth on a warship after the Italian navy rescued her from a migrant boat has said her daughter will have a better life in Europe after surviving the dangerous voyage.
Baby Francesca Marina, named after St Francis and the Italian navy, was delivered aboard the Bettica naval vessel in the Mediterranean a week ago. Once ashore, she suffered seizures and was put in intensive care.
A week on, Francesca and her mother, Stephanie Samuel, 24, have recovered and doctors in Sicily said they would probably be transferred to an immigration centre for families with small children in a few days’ time.
Samuel, who is Nigerian, worked for two years in Tripoli as a housemaid to save money to pay smugglers for the trip. The boat she set off in with about 90 others stalled after three hours at sea.
By the time they were picked up by the Bettica off the Libyan coast seven hours later, she was unconscious after suffering epileptic seizures and had gone into labour.
“I didn’t expect the baby, you know, but she just came,” Samuel said. “I just wanted to leave Libya. Italy is better than Libya and Nigeria is the worst.”
Of her daughter, she said: “God decides, not me … but I believe she will have a more good future in Europe.”
So far this year more than 30,000 people have reached Italy by sea from north Africa, mostly from Libya. More than 170,000 came last year. The interior ministry has said 200,000 might make it to Italy’s shores in 2015.
Many are political refugees such as Syrians fleeing civil war or Eritreans escaping forced military conscription, while others like Samuel are economic migrants in search of a better life.
Samuel said her husband, who was still working in Libya, was ready to risk the sea crossing to be with her and their daughter as soon as he could afford to pay the smugglers, who demand up to £1,000 for passage on overcrowded, rickety boats.