Child’s tale of survival highlights tragedy of migrant shipwreck

She is just a few months old, yet her story is the stuff of drama. At just 17 months, Massar survived for three days at sea, clinging to a life jacket – embodying the struggle for life endured by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants all around the world.

It has been a couple of weeks since the tot was admitted to the University Hospital of Iraklio on Crete but the doctors and nurses still talk about her ordeal. How could a baby survive such a trial?

“The child battled the waves for days and nights,” hospital director Nikos Haritakis tells Kathimerini. “When she came here she was completely dehydrated, burnt by the sun and suffering a multitude of biochemical imbalances. Yet she was taken off mechanical support in just four days. Today she has excellent awareness of her environment, is eating and drinking normally, and is in very good shape.”

Her recovery is more than unusual, the doctor adds.

“A child as young as she is could have suffered irreversible brain damage from the dehydration however many fluids we gave her afterward,” says Haritakis.

Massar was also fortunate to end up at this particular hospital, whose children’s department ranks among the best in Europe.

“The staff took in the child as though she were their own; it was very touching to see,” says Haritakis.

Massar had a guardian angel who helped her escape the fate of another estimated 500 migrants from Syria, Egypt and elsewhere whose boat capsized off the coast of Malta, 160 nautical miles southwest of Palaiohora, Crete, on September 10 in what is the deadliest migrant boat disaster in Europe’s history.

Her name is Doaa Al Zamel, a 19-year-old Syrian who managed to grab onto a life jacket when the boat went down. Nadia’s parents spotted Doaa in the water and appealed for her help.

“Please save our daughter,” they shouted out to her.

Doaa responded to their plea and grabbed the child, holding onto her tightly for hours on end and trying to keep her alert. As Doaa told doctors during a visit to Massar’s hospital bed a few days ago, it was the dramatic pleas of the child’s parents that compelled her to do everything in her power to save Massar.

The child’s parents did not make it.

Doaa has also recovered from the ordeal but lost her partner at sea.

Massar and Doaa are among six passengers on the ill-fated boat who were rescued from the sea by a merchant vessel sailing in the area and transported by the Greek air force to Crete for treatment as part of a cross-border effort to respond to the disaster. There were just 10 survivors, with two Palestinians taken to Italy and ther other two to Malta.

Massar’s tale has tugged at Greeks’ heartstrings and the hospital has received hundreds of calls offering support to the young orphan.

“We get so many calls from people offering to help Nadia in any way they can,” says Haritakis. Some offer money, others food and clothing, while there are also those who express a desire to adopt her.

Child services in Hania are now looking after Massar, who Greek nurses named Nadia when she was first put into their care and before she was identified, though it appears that she will not be put into an adoption program.

According to sources, a few days ago a Syrian refugee living in Sweden contacted the Greek authorities claiming that Massar is his niece. He is expected to provide a DNA sample to support his claim for custody and has already traveled to Hania to visit the young girl.

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