It’s August 2019 and a boat is stranded off the coast of Italy. Its passengers have already been marooned for more than a week; the 121 refugees huddled on the Open Arms, stuck in the Mediterranean Sea, simply have nowhere to go. Then, to general astonishment, Hollywood comes calling, as famed actor Richard Gere steps aboard.
The Spanish rescue ship had set off on its quest on August 2. However, its progress was brought to an abrupt halt when ports in Malta and Italy refused its captain’s requests to dock on their shores. Although 39 of the original 160 passengers had previously been let off in Malta, the remaining 121 travelers were stranded. They had nowhere else to go.
The passengers of the ship were Libyans seeking to escape the ravages of their home country’s war. They had escaped on smuggling boats not fit for sailing, before the Spanish ship had picked them up from the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Italy from its African neighbors. However, the boat had since been refused its requests to dock by authorities in both Malta and Italy.
Richard Gere was in Italy when he heard about the refugees’ plight and got in touch with the rescue organization, also named Open Arms. He wanted to help, so the charity suggested taking the refugees food and water. He arrived with supplies of fruit and spoke with some of the migrants about the horrors of the lives they had fled in Libya.
“These are extraordinary people, they are so strong, they have been through such horrors,” Gere said in a press conference. The actor appealed to Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister, to help the stranded Libyans. “What most people refer to as migrants, I refer to as refugees that are running from a fire. Demonizing people has to stop everywhere on the planet, and it will stop if we say stop.”