Separating Europe from Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has long been an important migration route for refugees. But it is only since 2014 that the number of people who die trying to cross the Mediterranean each month has been reported. Since 2014, more than 27,845 missing persons have been counted, although only God and the sea really know how many people did not make it. We have all seen images of capsizing boats overloaded with migrants, of people jumping into the sea to escape. Behind the sobering figures and heartbreaking images, there are people like Fatima, Abu Bakar, Sara, Hussein, Mamadou, Abdou—people I have met since I began photographing rescue missions in the Mediterranean in 2015. Each of them has his or her own story to tell. Each has left behind family and friends. Most are motivated by desperation. Since 2015, I have seen the faces of hundreds of terrified women; I have heard the crying of thousands of children hidden below deck; I have spoken with many men who were tortured in Libyan prisons. All of them want what all of us want: safety, a place where they can imagine a future for themselves and their loved ones. My hope is that the following images will move you in a way statistics and headlines can’t, that the faces of these migrants will remind you that this ongoing humanitarian crisis involves ordinary human beings exposed to the elements and at the mercy of overpowering forces beyond their control: droughts, floods, wars, human trafficking, and the barbarous policies of politicians claiming to protect European civilization.

Above, top left: Two boys from Eritrea sleep after being rescued by Médecins Sans Frontières. They left Libya and arrived safely in Sicily in July 2015.

Above, bottom left: A group of people mainly from Somalia and Eritrea arrive in Sicily after being rescued by Médecins Sans Frontières, July 9, 2015.

Above, right: A man from Guinea Conakry prays on the deck of the Dignity I, one of the Médecins Sans Frontières rescue ships.

Above: A group of people traveling in a wooden boat celebrate the arrival of the Open Arms team. They fled from Sfax, Tunisia, in August 2022, but the majority of them are from Bangladesh.

Right: Migrants aboard the Golfo Azzurro celebrate after the Italian authorities assigned their boat to a port on August 2, 2017. One of the Open Arms volunteers has turned on the radio, and a Bob Marley song is playing.

Below, left: A mother and her baby are rescued by the Médecins Sans Frontières teams on the Mediterranean Sea, July 2015.

Below, top right: A group of people wait to be rescued after spending more than twenty hours at sea in July 2015. The crowded inflatable boats usually carry a hundred people, but wooden boats can accommodate more than five hundred.

Below, bottom right: Migrants aboard the Dignity I embrace one another after the Italian coast is sighted. After disembarkation, refugees and migrants are taken to detention centers by the Italian authorities.

Below, left: A woman prays while aboard the speedboat of the Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms in August 2017. Twelve people were found dead on the boat on which she had been traveling. 

Below, right: An Open Arms team assists migrants waiting to be rescued by Italian authorities.

Below: A group of people, most of them from Syria, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Published in the September 2023 issue: View Contents

Anna Surinyach is a Spanish freelance photojournalist based in Barcelona who focuses on migration, refugees, and human-rights issues. Her work has appeared in Revista 5W, NPR, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

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