Ali's story

Ali, who was born with Down's Syndrome, arrived in Europe sunburnt and suffering from pneumonia.

UNHCR/Federico Schlatter

Miracle Ali’s Nightmare at Sea

Just 40 days old, a boy with Down’s Syndrome may never remember his journey to Europe. His parents will never forget it.

Ali's story
  • Produced by
    Warda Al-Jawahiry
14 August 2015 14 August 2015
Syria Italy

Ali’s father calls him “Miracle Ali”.

The boy, who is just 40 days old and has Down’s Syndrome, was with his parents aboard an overcrowded fishing boat en route from Libya to Italy. Less than 12 hours after their departure, technical problems caused the boat to break down and take on water. When passengers started jumping off the boat, it capsized – taking hundreds of the people down with it.

“Most of the people who were sitting with us on the deck died. It happened right there in front of us,” said Ali’s father. The adults did not want to be identified, citing fears that the smugglers might seek reprisals against family members back home.

Ali’s parents describe the horror of scrambling for life jackets and doing all they could to survive with their son. A single life jacket and a piece of wood from the shipwreck was their lifeline.

“We were swimming with corpses floating around us – children, women, old, young. We had to push them aside and swim through,” said Ali’s father.

Rescue came an hour later. Once the Irish rescue ship arrived in Sicily, Ali was rushed to hospital, where he is being treated for pneumonia. Ali might never remember his journey to Europe, but his parents will be haunted by the memories for a long time.