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  1. ITV Report

Migrants tell of Mediterranean crossing ordeal

Violence in Syria and Egypt has seen an increase in migrants trying to reach Italy. Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

Over the past decade, the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa has become one of the main points of entry into Europe for illegal immigrants crossing over from North Africa and the Middle East.

Sonny Johnson, a Sierra Leonean migrant paid US$800 to make the journey to Lampedusa from Tripoli in Libya. He told Irin News in 2011 of how he had crowded into a wooden fishing boat with 110 other migrants.

On the boat, nobody talked about where we were going. I don't think anyone wanted to jinx our arrival. All we knew was that we were going to Italy."

– Sonny Johnson, migrant from Sierra Leone

When the boat arrived in Lampedusa, some dropped to their knees and prayed on the edge of the dock, he said. "There is a kind of euphoria. We cannot believe we have arrived."

The journey is perilous: More than 17,000 migrants have died en route to Europe between 1992 and 2012, according to United Against Racism, an organisation that supports migrants and refugees.

More than 100 people died when a boat carrying migrants sank off Lampedusa this week. Credit: REUTERS/Enza Billeci

Muhammed Munadi left his village in Tunisia for Italy after his livelihood as a smuggler dried up.

"There were many strong waves, and the boat was full of water," he told the Guardian in 2011.

"If the weather stays like this, we'll be fine," the skipper at the helm told Muhammed and the other passengers.

"If it becomes more windy, I'll say I'm so sorry for you," he said.

After a long and fraught journey, they made it ashore.

"When I set foot on Lampedusa's port, I felt like I was born again" .

– Muhammed Munadi, Tunisian migrant.