NEW YORK, JANUARY 13 – 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’. “We risked our lives to come here,” said Mohammad, 17, “We knew it is not safe. We do it, or we die.”
Mohammad and his friends told theirs story to the UNICEF platform Photography and Social Change, which advocates for children and women through visual evidence and storytelling in support of their rights. 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.” 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.
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.” Their boat sank while crossing the Mediterranean, they were saved by the Italian Navy. The boys are now living in a refugee center in Pozzallo, Sicily. Seeking asylum in Italy, they 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,” Abdullah said.
To read their story and see the photographs of their ordeal, click here.