Born on a rescue ship!

In an incubator in an Italian maternity hospital lies a baby with two names, and an incredible story.

To the Italians, she is Francesca Marina. To her mother, she is simply called Gift.

Just four days old, the baby was born on an Italian naval rescue ship, the Bettica.

Her mother, Stephanie Samuel, is recovering in the same hospital in Ragusa. They endured a 10-hour boat ride, and eight hours of labour.

Stephanie Samuel had worked as a housemaid in Tripoli but after two years, and with a deteriorating security situation in Libya, she decided that even though heavily pregnant, she had to escape.

“I think that Italy is more good than Libya, so I decide to come to Italy,” she explained in broken English. “I thought I would come to Italy and have the baby a week later.”

Despite the dangers of the crossing – it cost her $600 (530 euros) in a boat packed with nearly 100 other people – she was prepared for the risk.

“I’m not scared,”

she said.

“I make up my mind, and I’m not scared, because I believe there is God.”

Her husband, Valentino, is still in Libya. He received news of the birth in a telephone call.

“I told him I’m here safely and I have a baby, a baby girl, and he was happy,”

she said.

“I’m happy to have Gift, she’s my first daughter, my first born,”

she added.

Gift remains in intensive care in an Italian hospital
Gift remains in intensive care in an Italian hospital

Stephanie Samuel had been brought on board unconscious. She was having fits, and the medics had to administer a sedative to allow her to give birth.

Dr Sara Modde, of CISOM, the emergency services of the Order of Malta, was the doctor on board. She had only delivered two babies previously.

“The labour was really intense and exhausting, because the mother was continually sedated – to prevent her epileptic attacks we used Valium,”

she explained.

“It was difficult since it was her first pregnancy, and she was delivering in a very difficult situation.”

A tent was set up on deck to allow privacy, but when the baby finally arrived, the whole ship heard about it.

New mother Stephanie says her journey with Gift has just begun
New mother Stephanie says her journey with Gift has just begun

“With one last push Stephanie let out a great cry. So everybody outside knew that a baby girl had been born,”

she said.

“The other migrants started clapping, and singing hymns. Even though it was the middle of the night, the entire crew, including the captain, joined in.”

Dr Modde explained that the crew chose the name Francesca after Francis of Assisi. And Marina means “navy” in Italian.

Without the Italian rescue services, Stephanie and Gift’s journey could have ended in tragedy.

But despite the pain and the suffering of their crossing they made it to here in Sicily and the promise of a better life.

And for the tens of thousands of other migrants, still waiting to cross the Mediterranean, that story is likely to inspire, rather than deter them from making their own journey.

Gift is still in a serious condition in the intensive care unit.

Stephanie Samuel says their journey is far from over. When she recovers, she expects to go to a reception centre on the island.

She hopes that they can stay in Europe, and that her husband may yet get to meet his baby daughter.

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