How One Woman Saved 16,000 Refugees With Her Phone

meron-estefanos-on-phone.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox (1)

One day in 2010, the woman with the red fingernails received the first call. She was standing in her kitchen when her white cellphone rang. The display showed “00888” — the first five digits of an unknown number. When the woman answered, she was assaulted by shrieks. Four hundred and twenty-five Eritreans were drifting in the Mediterranean. The ship was leaking; water was creeping up the walls.

One of the passengers had the telephone number of Meron Estefanos and entered the 13 digits into a satellite cellphone, the one that people smugglers give refugees for emergencies. Estefanos’ telephone began to ring. It was a nightmare, she recalls. “This panic, the people screaming into the receiver: ‘We’re dying, our life is in your hands. Do something!’”

Today, the 40-year old woman with the red fingernails is sitting on a plastic chair in her kitchen, the same place she received the call five years ago.

Gift Cards

“At that time I hardly knew how to handle the situation. First I called the Italian authorities. They told me: ‘Call Malta!’ I called up Malta. They told me: ‘Call Italy!’” Seven hours passed until the 425 people knew they would survive, she recounts. The Italian Coast Guard rescued them. For Estefanos, it was the beginning of a long acquaintance with the ominous numerical sequence 00888, which indicates a call from a satellite mobile on the Mediterranean.

The Star


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here