What is it like to attempt to travel across the Mediterranean Sea by boat? What do those who do so face on their journeys?

Researchers for the Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat project interviewed 271 people, most of whom had already crossed the Mediterranean by boat, and others who were planning to do so to create an interactive map that allows viewers to explore the complex, dangerous journeys people make.,

In this animation, hear about the experiences people had during their journeys. 

A man escaping danger in Afghanistan:

“The situation was so rough in Afghanistan, especially in Helmand, and I also worked with international NGO's, so therefore I couldn't live more in Helmand. So sometimes the smugglers were friendly and sometimes really bad. So, from Afghanistan until Pakistan, those people were really not good. They were shouting and beating the people. In Iran also the situation was not good for refugees. I couldn't stay here because that place was not for Afghans. I came to Turkey. But when I came from Iran, until Turkey, the person was a good person, and he was friendly. There's no legal document so that refugees can come from Turkey to Greece or to other countries, smuggling is the only chance. This is the only way that refugees have. And when I arrived here, we were in a reception centre to Dortmund and the manager of that centre said Germany is better for you, don't move from here because another countries are not accepting refugees. So therefore, I change my decision and I stayed here. People that are coming here, they are forced to come in here. They don't want to leave their family, their country and their houses there, like they have at least house and live in place and they don't want to come in here and they stay in one room and one in the camps. It's not really cool for them to come here, so I would say to policy makers that they should accept refugees because they didn't came here for joy or something like that. They came because they need to come, they have to come.”

A man fleeing conflict and insecurity in Iraq:

“In Iraq it is normal to kill people. Imagine, this is what we have come to. It's a bad situation. We have a generation of young people who don't know how to think, they have no humanity, they have no mercy. The very day that Mosul fell to ISIS, the very same day I was on the road. We were delayed in northern Iraq. Did something happen? Mosul had fell to ISIS. The road was closed, and we had to go to Kirkuk and then to Erbil. Honestly, I don't know this road is but the important thing was we were going to be delayed and I had the medicine for my nephew with me. It need to stay cold so every while I had to put it on ice. I almost. I was on the road for three days. After my nephew died, my wife came and saw me. I was in very bad shape. She was so patient with me. I am thankful, she said: “Why don't you apply for a visa to Germany?” She said: “Submit your papers to the embassy, maybe they will accept you.” I told you her: “No problem, I will apply.” They had the passport for seven months; seven months my passport was at the German embassy. I went to my house, and I found the postman at the door. He gave me the package; inside the package I found the passport and a paper that explained the reason for the rejection. I got depressed and my goal for life became zero. Zero, everything was closed. I tried to get out of this phase, living as if dead. Is this better? You could go crazy.”

A man escaping death threats in Afghanistan:

“The Taliban dropped a letter. They said that they knew I was working for a foreign company and that they were following me for a long time. They knew I lived here. They warned me that next time they called me, they would destroy me, so that time I decided I should leave Afghanistan. I didn't care about borders, all I cared about was to save my life, seriously. I thought I could find a safe place and find work and that's all. Maybe in Turkey, Turkey is a good place. But if they find you’re illegal in Turkey, they will deport you back to Kabul. I'm sure they cannot stop smugglers, I'm 100% sure. Not European countries, not in the Middle East because they have power. If you close the way, they'll find a different way. Even if you find and close the passageway through borders, they will soon find new ways. They're like mice. Life in here is very, very hard. For food, you have to stand in line for two hours for breakfast, which is at 9:00 AM and lunch, which is at 3:00 PM. Dinner is at 9:00 PM. And the only thing to eat is boiled potatoes in water without any oil or salt on it. And the life inside the tent I'm sure has a temperature higher than 45°C and lots of kids one day were poisoned with the food because we all had the stomach ache in here. It is very hard. Do something for my country. European leaders should talk with the people who are responsible for destroying my country, Afghanistan. They should talk to them. Why? If it has not stopped there, and if the war continues in Afghanistan, I'm sure all people will break out of the borders and leave to save their lives.”

A women escaping a battleground in Syria:

“Khaldiyeh in Homs was a battleground. It was the first area that firing started in. We left in the clothes we were wearing. We left everything. There were important documents like proof of ownership of the house, the family registration over IDs that weren’t able to take, we fled when a window of calm appeared, when there wasn't firing, we got out fast and we left. We went to Damascus and stayed in the hope that the situation in Homs would be rectified, and we would return. We waited and waited and waited. In Damascus, we rent a house and the price had really risen. It was abnormal. We stayed in this condition. I was really facing a lot of difficulties. I am the oldest of my siblings, so all of the responsibility was on me. There were Circassians here in Turkey and on Facebook they were writing and inviting Syrian Circassians. They were offering to help them until they settle. I told my parents I don't have any money left; I only had the money left for the trip from Syria to Turkey and after that, nothing. I convinced them with difficulty, and we left for Turkey on December 24th, 2012. Here, life is expensive. It's not cheap. The houses we were renting was really bad. We were thirteen people in a house with three rooms. My brothers and my sister husband were sleeping in the kitchen and the people sleeping in the hallway. The situation was really painful. We said we will find work and they wouldn't employ us. We try to find a better house and they wouldn't agree to rent us the house. Three years ago, there was a UNHCR office in Taksim, Istanbul, and I went and registered, but they never did anything. Never. They told me to wait for phone call; no-one called, no-one did anything. And then that office closed. When the border to Europe closed, I felt that I am here alone, I am alone. I did not get married, and I am 40. There are a lot of people talking to me about marriage, but I am not able to because of my parents. I can't leave my mother and father, you know. I am responsible, I am responsible for everything in the house, the cleaning, the food, diabetes has a special diet, you know, so really there is suffering, suffering.”

Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat was led by Professor Vicki Squire with colleagues at the University of Warwick, University of Malta and the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

For more information about the research projects featured in Refugees:  Forced to Flee, explore this guide from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

About the Exhibition

War turns people's worlds upside down, from the First World War to the present day, countless lives have been affected by conflict. Ordinary people are forced to make extraordinary decisions – should they stay or go?

Refugees: Forced to Flee at IWM London explored a century of refugee experiences, from Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews and the Kindertransport, to the Calais Jungle and the treacherous Mediterranean crossings.

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©Rob Pinney


IWM London & IWM North

1 August 2020 to 26 September 2021

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