25 Sep 2014

On the shores with the thousands dying to reach Europe

Europe Editor and Presenter

More than 2,000 people, desperate to reach Europe, have died in Mediterranean waters in just the last three months. Channel 4 News meets some of the survivors as they land in Sicily.

Ahmed is one of the estimated 130,000 immigrants who have arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2014. After escaping the conflict in Gaza, he took a boat from Egypt heading towards Sicily, Italy.

Speaking to Channel 4 News Europe Editor Matt Frei as he arrived on dry land after 23 days at sea with his son, he said: “My baby and wife are dead, they were killed by the Israelis. My son Abdallah is 8 years old.”

He is just one of hundreds witnessed by this programme pouring into Sicily. Most are brought to land by the Italian navy, which rescues people at sea. They are desperate to reach the relative safety of Europe, but when they reach it, their problems are far from over.

Read more: Destination Europe - a refugee crisis 

Italy in particular is struggling to cope with the influx: of the people who have arrived on European shores since the start of the year, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates an overwhelming 118,000, or 90 per cent, came to Italy. Just under 40,000 have requested political asylum there, meaning the remaining thousands have left the camps there and taken off for other countries, mostly in Northern Europe.

Already this year, more than twice as many immigrants in Europe have been registered as in the whole of 2013 – more than ever before. More than half are from Syria or Eritrea. Most get the boat from Libya to Europe, where there is an ongoing conflict – which effectively means that all are fleeing conflict.

Although they face ongoing trials in Europe, those who reach it, like Ahmed, are the lucky ones, because they survived the desperate journey.

UNHCR estimates that 2,500 people have died in Mediterranean waters since the beginning of the year – 2,200 of those in just the few months since the beginning of June.

Pictures by Channel 4 News producer Federico Escher.