Danger Every Step of the Way

© UNICEF/UN020011/Gilbertson VII Photo

13 June 2016 (UNICEF)* – Alone on the move to Europe, their friendship started when seven Gambian boys met while waiting to travel by boat from Libya to Italy. Referencing their journey, the boys named their crew “Do it or die”.

© UNICEF/UN020033/Gilbertson VII Photo

Imprisoned in Gambia for almost two months after removing a political party flag from his compound, Mohammad escaped and went directly to Libya.

He said, “I knew if they caught me again, they would put me in a second prison I couldn’t get out of.” Mohammad, centre, walks on a beach with his crew in Sicily.

© UNICEF/UN020009/Gilbertson VII Photo

The route through the Saharan desert to Libya is harrowing for many. The boys faced over-crowded trucks, bandits and extortion demands.

“At any checkpoint in the desert, you have to give money or they beat you” said Alieu, 17.

Abdullah massages Alieu’s back at the reception centre in Pozzallo.

© UNICEF/UN020026/Gilbertson VII Photo

Like many migrants and refugees, the boys were using a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system — working at various points of the journey to raise money for the next stage’s travel.

“Any work to have money to come here,” Sanna, 17, explained, “we were like slaves.”

Sanna visits the public zoo in Pozzallo.

© UNICEF/UN020020/Gilbertson VII Photo

Abdullah paid 1000 Libyan dinars (USD$742) for the sea passage, “People were crying, and then the boat started sinking […] We were just floating and shouting when we saw our rescuer — it was the Italian Marines.”

The crew walk past a smuggler’s boat in a ship graveyard in Sicily.

© UNICEF/UN020030/Gilbertson VII Photo

Now seeking asylum in Italy, Abdullah and his friends are desperate to move on. “I can go to high school, but I don’t know when I can begin. I don’t even know when we get out of here.”

Mohammad fist bumps with a local resident after chatting during an outing from the reception centre.

Learn more about the refugee and migrant crisis.

Go to the profile of UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child in 190 countries and territories, with a special focus on reaching those in greatest need.

  • UNICEF photography advocates for children & women through visual evidence & storytelling.

  • *Report published in UNICEF‘s Photography and social change. Go to Original

    2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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