Ella IDE

A baby girl who survived a shipwreck that killed her parents and captured the heart of an Italian doctor has become the new face of the country’s migrant drama.

Nine-month-old Favour arrived alone on the island of Lampedusa, which lies closer to the shores of north Africa than Italy, after her father and pregnant mother died during a nightmarish journey which left many survivors suffering serious chemical burns.

The boat, carrying about 120 people largely from Mali and Nigeria, overturned Tuesday after the migrants rushed to one side on spotting a rescue ship - a frequent and often fatal mistake which has led to many similar disasters. Survivors pulled from the sea were taken to Lampedusa’s hospital and reception centre, including small, blue-hatted Favour.

Pietro Bartolo, the island’s only doctor, has cared for hundreds of undernourished, dehydrated and distressed migrants and examined countless bodies of those who have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of the crisis. But little Favour made a particular impact.

“I’ve asked to foster her, I want to keep her with me forever,” he said in interviews published across Italian media on Thursday, adding that if he should not be awarded custody “someone must adopt her and give her a new life”. “She is a marvellous creature, she hugged me, she didn’t shed a tear,” he said.

Bewitching

Bartolo met wide-eyed Favour off the rescue boat, taking her from the arms of a young woman - one of 20 people suffering burns severe enough to warrant hospital treatment - who recounted the fate suffered by the infant’s parents.

She would not be Bartolo’s first foster child: the 59-year-old took in a 17-year-old Tunisian boy five years ago, according to La Stampa daily.

Her story has prompted dozens of Italian families to call the doctor’s practice in Lampedusa seeking to adopt her. “They call from all over Italy, the telephone in the clinic has been ringing off the hook. They want to take her in, they beg to be able to raise this little girl,” Bartolo told the La Repubblica newspaper.

Favour has also bewitched the island’s mayor, Giusi Nicolini, who has made staff at the centre promise to warn her before she is transferred to a shelter for minors in Sicily so she has time to say goodbye. “She is so beautiful! It’s incredible that she’s so well, considering everything she’s been through,” she said.

As Bartolo held Favour, who played with the red glasses hung around his neck, he told La Stampa that her survival against the odds reminded him of the miraculous recovery of a woman years ago who had been placed in a body bag in Lampedusa before he discovered a weak pulse.

Holding and playing with the little girl brought a ray of joy to a grim job which sees Bartolo stare death repeatedly in the face. “When they say you get used to it after a bit, I answer that I have never got used to it. And each time I have to open a body bag I am sick to my stomach,” he said. AFP