accessibility & help

Humanity at a Crossroads: Migrant’s Journeys on the Central Mediterranean Route

16 September 2016

  • While the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing to Italy makes the headlines, it is often the last stage in a journey where people have endured horrific violence, discrimination, and exploitation for months, sometimes years 
  • A series of maps drawn by refugees and migrants in Sicily shows routes which people are taking to flee (photos available to download here)
  • New British Red Cross research carried out in Italy, Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan shows that violence and exploitation are endemic along migratory routes and governments must do more to protect people

Dangerous Journeys: Humanity at a Crossroads, a new report by the British Red Cross, reveals the extent of the horrific violence and exploitation people are enduring as they search for safety or a better life. The report is released ahead of two international summits on refugees and migrants at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 19th and 20th.


The research from the British Red Cross highlights the dangers that people face, particularly in areas without effective law enforcement. Nearly all of those interviewed in Italy had been detained for a period in Libya and many had been subjected to or witnessed beatings, abuse, sexual violence and forced labour and most had been detained at some point on their journeys. Abduction for ransom was common.

Most have travelled across the vast Sahara desert, where survivors of this journey tell of people dying from hunger and thirst and even falling from overcrowded trucks and being left to die. One woman who took this journey said: “We were 26 or 27 people in a pick-up truck… it was not comfortable – hot, with no food and very little water; just a mouthful from time to time. If we complained, we were beaten. We were treated very badly. We heard stories of women being raped.”

One person interviewed for this study recounted, “many people died but I was smart, and drank my urine to survive.” The journey of one 23-year-old woman interviewed took an incredible seven years.

While many have fled conflict or persecution in countries including Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, others are fleeing extreme poverty or have been forced to continue their journey to Europe due to the dangers of remaining in Libya.

The British Red Cross is urging policy-makers to ensure that vulnerable people, irrespective of legal status, are provided with humanitarian assistance and protection along the routes they take. This should include a commitment to the continuation of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Clea Kahn, Humanitarian Advocacy Manager at the British Red Cross said: 

“The tragic deaths in the Mediterranean and the dangers of crossing the sea to Italy have become well known over the past year. For most people, however, arriving on Europe’s shores is the final feat of endurance; the last leg of a journey that has put their lives at risk numerous times.

“The horrific experiences of people making this journey – regardless of where they started it or why – must be acknowledged and addressed. It is a humanitarian crisis in its own right.

“As world leaders come together to discuss migration and refugee issues, they must rise above the instinct to contain, deter and punish these refugees and vulnerable migrants and provide humanitarian assistance and protection.”




  • The British Red Cross is part of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the largest humanitarian network in the world, which is present along the entire migratory route to Italy