Who are the Mediterranean's migrants?

  • Published

Thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East attempt to reach the shores of Europe each year, many making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. More than 1,800 have died making the crossing so far in 2015 - a 20-fold increase on the same period last year.

Here, four families and individuals who made the long trip over land and sea describe why they decided to leave their homes and what they are hoping for from a future in Europe.

Staf Mustapha, 34: Ghana to Macedonia

Journey distance: approx 7,000km (4,300 miles)

  • Time taken: 20 months
  • Route: Ghana - Burkina Faso - Niger - Libya - Turkey - Greece - Macedonia

Staf and a group of Ghanaians he met en route have spent many months trying to get to Europe. They began their journey in 2013 and have lost some of their number to the harsh conditions of the deserts of Niger and Chad.

If a fellow traveller's supply of food or water ran low, others were reluctant to share because of fears for their own survival. This meant watching friends die, says Staf.

"You can't do anything," he says, "because if you try to save them, you are putting yourself in danger and you will also die. That's how it is.

"Most of our friends died in the desert."

Image source, Staf Mustapha
Image caption,
Staf has travelled through many countries on his journey to Europe

Staf and his friend Ali describe how, after reaching the coast of Libya, they took the journey to Turkey on a small "balloon boat" made of rubber with 50 other people. Ali paid traffickers 700 euros to make the crossing, but says others paid more.

Without anyone to navigate and steer, the migrants were left to their own devices and the mercy of the sea.

"It was so stressful," says Staf. "It's very dangerous. There were some Libyans who took off before us - they all died."

Image caption,
Staf Mustapha (far right) and his friends, including Ali (middle)

Others also ended their own lives by jumping into the sea, says Ali.

"They said they couldn't continue. They said, 'We're suffering too much'."

After the relief of reaching the shores of Greece, Staf went on to Macedonia, but is now in the hands of a gang of traffickers, who want cash to release him.

He says the conditions are poor, with many migrants sleeping in rooms with no light and no electricity.

Media caption,

Staf films conditions in Macedonia, where he says he is being held by a gang

Ahmed, Latifah and their three young sons: Syria to Germany

  • Journey distance: approx 2,800km (1,700 miles)
  • Time taken: Two months
  • Route: Syria - Turkey - Greece - Macedonia - Serbia - Hungary - Germany

Latifah, her husband Ahmed and their three young sons, Karim, 12, Hamza, seven, and Adam, two, fled war-torn Syria in April this year looking for a new life in Europe.

Newly arrived in Germany, the family, from Deraa in southern Syria, has been on the road for many months.

Their journey has taken them through underground tunnels and on two boat trips across the Mediterranean - the first of which ended in disaster.

Latifah recalls how the family was shocked to discover the first boat due to take them to the Greek island of Leros was just 6m long and made of rubber.

"We were 40 people with our luggage," she says. "As soon as we got in it we knew it would sink."

Media caption,

One family makes the long journey from Syria to Europe over land and sea.

As the family predicted, the boat ran into trouble off the coast of Greece and the migrants were forced to ring the coastguard from a mobile phone to ask for help.

"We threw our luggage out of the boat and jumped in the water, where we stayed for two hours," she says.

Eventually, both the Turkish and Greek coastguards arrived to rescue them, but the Turkish arrived first and returned them to the Turkish coast.

"It was the most difficult time," Latifah says, fighting back tears. "We were cold and soaked. We had no blankets."

Image caption,
The family has been documenting their journey with photos

But, despite their experience, the family tried to cross again, desperate to get to Europe. The second attempt was successful and they registered with authorities in Greece.

After travelling on to the country's capital Athens, they moved on through Macedonia and Serbia and onto Germany.

Om Motasem and her daughters: Syria to Germany

  • Journey distance: approx 5,700km (3,500 miles)
  • Time taken: Two years
  • Route: Syria - Egypt - Italy - France - Germany

Om Motasem fled her home country of Syria as it became engulfed by civil war. She had been living with her husband, Abu Nimr, 42, his second wife, 15 children and Abu Nimr's elderly mother in the countryside close to Syria's capital Damascus.

But when the family lost their business and the family home to the violence, their elder sons began to flee the country - to Belgium and Turkey.

As the situation worsened, in July 2013 Abu Nimr and Om Motasem took the decision to leave their homeland for the safety of Egypt's coastal city of Alexandria. They made the journey with Abu Nimr's elderly mother, six daughters and two of their youngest sons.

But, once in Egypt, it became a struggle to survive, and after one older son departed for Europe to settle in Berne, Germany, Om Motasem decided to follow with her two young daughters, aged 11 and 16.

The three endured a three-day trip across the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Media caption,

Om Motasem and her husband, Abu Nimr, describe how they and their family escaped Syria's civil war

"We sailed at night, there were children and women amongst us," Om Motasem says. "We had agreed with smugglers that the number should not be more than 200 people. But when we got to the boat, the number of people was shocking - no less than 500.

"We were terrified. The tide was very high. It was a horrific journey. It's not something I would wish on anyone."

Image caption,
The children have been split up and spent time apart

Abu Nimr, still in Alexandria, describes how he "nearly lost his mind" with worry about his family's safety as they made the crossing. He stayed by the seashore for three days until he knew they were safe.

He now hopes to follow his wife and daughters, who have reached Germany and are attempting to build a new life.

Omar Gassama, 18: Gambia to Italy

  • Journey distance: approx. 4,200km (2,600 miles)
  • Time taken: 17 months
  • Route: Gambia - Senegal - Mali - Burkina Faso - Niger - Libya - Italy

Teenager Omar, who is originally from Senegal but was schooled in Gambia, has made his way to Turin in northern Italy.

He travelled to Libya at the age of 16 looking for work, but because he had no papers, he struggled to find a job.

Finding the country dangerous and suffering prejudice because of the colour of his skin, he decided to pay a trafficker to make the journey across the Mediterranean to Sicily in April this year.

Media caption,

Omar describes his journey across Africa and the Mediterranean

"The sea was frightening and the boat was very crowded," he recalls.

Two days after setting sail, he and his fellow migrants were rescued by the Italian navy and placed in a hotel-turned-shelter along with dozens of other youngsters from Nigeria, Somalia and Eretria. Here, the migrants were given clothes, food and a small allowance.

Omar has now been moved to Turin on the Italian mainland and is living in a shared building with other migrants - mainly from Senegal.

Image source, BBC, Omar Gassama
Image caption,
Omar has been learning Italian with his friend Abdul while staying in Turin

While he is awaiting a decision on his status by officials, Omar is attending classes to learn Italian. He then hopes to find a job so that he can support his family back home.

"I would really like to work and have some money to send back, because my father has passed away," he says. "There is only me now and I have younger brothers and a younger sister."

He says he may move on to Germany or the UK in the future.

"I need somewhere where my mind can be free," he adds.

Interviews by Paul Harris, Dina Demrdash, Pietro Guastamacchia, Daphne Toli and Vladimir Hernandez.

Web production by Lucy Rodgers and Tom Nurse.

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