What pieces of home would you take with you?

Survivors of the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing share what precious items they took with them when they left home.

A notebook, prayer beads, and wooden disk carried by a migrant in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Love is the only thing that stays with us, whether at home or abroad," reads a token carried by a Syrian man who was rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. | Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

“Even though I haven’t seen them for years, with the photographs, their memories stay.” 

Whether they are fleeing war, persecution, or poverty and instability, most people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe have traveled long distances before finally boarding a boat, and the possessions they choose to carry with them are often precious reminders of home.

The journey is dangerous: Since 2024, nearly 30,000 people have died or gone missing, as the overloaded, shoddy boats frequently capsize. With our rescue vessel, Geo Barents, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams rescue people from boats in distress and provide lifesaving care, before and after they set foot on land. Our teams have rescued more than 80,000 people from the treacherous central Mediterranean Sea route.

Among those rescued are the survivors below, who told us about the objects they took with them on their journeys. 

A man who survived a Mediterranean Sea crossing.
A man holds a ring with a scorpion design on a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea.

Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Stefan Pejovic/MSF

Ziyad, Egypt

"Scorpion [a ring], for me, has a special character. He is unique, like a lion or an eagle. The person who gave me this ring is also unique and special to me. The ring gave me a lot of hope. Not luck, but hope and strength when I was hopeless, when all the doors were shut. I will never let go of this ring. Even if I get married, I will put the wedding ring on another finger."

Ziyad was rescued by MSF on May 1, 2024, from a wooden boat in distress that departed from Libyan shores. It was his second attempt to cross the central Mediterranean after leaving Egypt two years ago.

A woman holds a photo of her husband aboard a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
Dilba item 2

Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Dilba, Syria

“I have photographs of my husband, my children, my siblings, and my best friends. Even this one, which is the 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 different places. 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 neighborhood, my friends, and the place where I grew up. 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 on February 5, 2024, while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded wooden boat carrying about 130 other people.

A man holds a hat aboard a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Mohammad, Syria

“This hat means a lot to me. It’s not a traditional hat but still it’s a beautiful one. I have had it with me since I left Syria two years ago; it was given to me by my mother, and she told me to keep it with me. It has been my companion across the whole journey, even in detention. When I was detained in Libya, I used this hat to cover my eyes and sleep, so that I wouldn’t see the over-crowdedness and circumstances under which people were living. If I were to lose it, no other hat could replace it.” 

On February 5, 2024, MSF teams rescued 134 people in distress from an overcrowded wooden boat in the central Mediterranean. Mohammad was one of them.

A husband and wife aboard a search and rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
A woman wearing a watch that was a present from her husband, Moataz.

Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Madrid, Syria

“My husband, Moataz, and I met each other a long time ago. He gifted me this watch when we first fell in love. Later on we got married, and since then, I haven’t stopped wearing it. 

I took the watch with me when we went to Libya, even though I was afraid to lose it or that it would get stolen. For me it was so important to have it because this watch symbolizes his love for me. When I was in the detention center in Libya, I had a skin allergy, but I kept it on. I wear it whether I’m asleep, washing, or whatever I do—because this watch connects me strongly to him.” 

On February 5, 2024, Madrid embarked with her husband, their son, and her mother-in-law on an unseaworthy wooden boat from the Libyan coast in an attempt to reach Europe. About 15 hours later, the four of them were rescued in the central Mediterranean by MSF, alongside another 130 people.

A man holds a token he carried on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea.
Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Amer*, 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.”

Amer, 31, and his brother Khalil*, 26, were living in Damascus, Syria, until 2021 when they left for Libya to then attempt crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Amer and Khalil were rescued by MSF on November 30, 2023, from a fiberglass boat in distress.

 *Names changed for privacy

A woman holds bags of herbs on a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea.
Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Khadijah, Morocco via Libya

“The bags are precious for me. They contain various traditional herbs and plants (lavender, celery, clove, cress) that were prepared by my grandmother. We use them in Morocco to treat hair and skin, and some of them to help 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 for weddings in Libya, where she lost her first husband and parents in a bombing. After several other violent incidents, she finally 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 center. Khadijah’s family was rescued by MSF on November 30, 2023.

A man wearing a ring and necklace he carried on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea.
Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

Hamid, 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 knew they would be stripped away from me. But when I arrived on Geo Barents, the first thing I did was put them on because here, it’s a trustworthy place.”

Hamid is from the Punjab region of Pakistan. He left in 2022, traveling first to Dubai, then to Egypt and Libya. In Libya, he worked at a gas station before he attempted the sea crossing. Hamid was rescued by MSF, along with over 50 other people, on November 17, 2023.

A woman holds her SIM card atop her phone in the Mediterranean Sea.
Mediterranean Sea 2024 © Annalisa Ausilio/MSF

Precious, Nigeria

“I was scared of losing my SIM card, [because] 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 the seams of my T-shirt, 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 increasing violence and the 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 October 15, 2023, from an overcrowded rubber boat.  It was her fourth attempt to cross the sea to reach Europe.