Since we’ve started Refugee.Info, we’ve seen many conversations in the group and we’ve received many requests in our inbox of people asking for help to reach Europe. Refugee.Info Italy focuses on providing verified information for refugees, asylum seekers, and others who are already in Italy. We don't have editorial staff on the ground in countries along the route to Europe, but since we are hearing from so many of you on this subject, we decided to compile some information about the journey to Europe.

Our aim isn’t to encourage nor to discourage people in their attempt to reach Europe. We just want people to be safe and to have all the information they need to make an informed decision!

If you are considering trying to reach Europe, there are few things you need to know.

You can use this article to learn more about:

  • Legal and safe options
  • Irregular migration to Italy
  • Risks of irregular migration
  • Who can help on the road

Is there any legal and safe option to reach Italy?

Short answer: yes!

Unfortunately, legal options available are quite limited. Italy and the other EU countries put in place measures to regulate the legal access of non-EU citizens to Europe. You can find more information here.

If you’re considering moving to Italy or another EU country, checking if you meet the requirements for one of the safe and legal pathways available is the first step you should take. You can reach Italy, or any other EU country, for the following reasons:

  • Family reunification, if you have some close family members legally staying in Europe. Check here to learn more about the family members that qualify for the procedure.
  • Work, if you are a highly qualified or skilled worker or you want to enter as a seasonal worker
  • Education, if you want to study in Italy or another EU country.

You can find more information on visa requirements for Italy on the website of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

You can also visit the EU Immigration Portal for more information on how to legally enter other European countries.

What does irregular migration to Italy mean?

It’s important you know that getting a visa to enter and stay legally in another country can be a very long process. Beside the strict criteria and the long waiting times, it can happen that the relevant authorities deny your request for a visa. This may encourage you to undertake the dangerous journey, however it may still be worth to wait, unless your life is in immediate danger.

Unless there’s an agreement between your home country and Italy that allows you to travel visa free, entering Italy without a visa is considered illegal. For example, arriving to Italy on a boat or overstaying in Italy after your visa expires are both considered irregular migration.

If you arrived irregularly to Italy, filing an asylum request is basically the only way to regularize your legal stay in the country. However, you need to keep in mind that the EU law does not allow you to choose the country to file your asylum application. According the “Dublin III” Regulation you are supposed to apply for asylum in the first safe country of arrival.

Learn more: Applying for asylum in Italy

Risks on the road

In general, the journey to Europe can be extremely dangerous and expensive, and smugglers may expose you to both violence and life-threatening risks. Despite what smugglers may tell you, they cannot guarantee that you will reach Italy. Each border crossing can be very risky, and unfortunately many migrants die, end up in detention centres, are kidnapped by armed groups, or are forced to return. Personal stories and risks may vary depending on the route you take.

The Mediterranean Sea is home to three main routes:

  • The Eastern Mediterranean Route (EMR), the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.
  • The Central Mediterranean Route (CMR), mainly from Libya and Tunisia to Italy.
  • The Western Mediterranean Route (WMR), the sea journey from Morocco to mainland Spain, and land crossings into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

In this article we will be focusing on the risks that people migrating may encounter through the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR) – the sea journey mainly from Libya and Tunisia to Italy.

The journey before reaching Libya

The Migrant Project wrote more about the costs and the risks of the journey through Niger and the Sahara Desert to Libya.

If you are on route and you need help, you can call the Alarme Phone Sahara emergency hotline: +22780296826 or +22785752676. You can get more info about the contacts and phone number by countries here.

Trafficking and exploitation

People on route are often vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. If you run out of cash on the way to Europe, smugglers will most likely force you to work as slaves in order to pay back your debts: men are usually expected to deliver hard manual labor, while women are often forced into prostitution. In countries like Libya, you may find yourself stuck in these conditions for many years.

Unfortunately, even if you make it to Italy, it is not guaranteed you will be free from the exploitation cycle. If you find yourself in this situation, please drop us a private message on Facebook.

If you are in Italy, you can also call the national anti-trafficking helpline: 800290290 (all phone networks) or 3427754946 (Lycamobile). The hotline is free, anonymous, and active 24/7.

Detention, violence, and abuse

Ending up trapped in detention is another obstacle on the way to Europe. As of July 2019, there were around 6000 people being arbitrarily held in detention centers across Libya. In these centers, migrants reported to live in horrendous conditions, not only with limited access to hygiene, food, water, space, and daylight, but also experiencing regular rape, torture and violence.

It seems almost unbelievable, but the situation in Libya and the conditions of migrants trapped in the country have worsened over the past months due to the internal clashes.

At this point, those who made it through the Sahara desert and Libya will have to embark on a sea journey to reach the Italian coasts.

Who can help?

If you find yourself stuck in a situation in a country other than the country you are from, you may want to reach out to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the country you are.

Refugee.Info is an information service and we are not equipped to respond to emergency situations or help people facing threats. However, if you are not sure how to contact UNHCR and IOM, you can drop us a private message. We’ll do our best to help you get in contact with the relevant organisation.

Crossing the Mediterranean sea

It is always a risk to embark on an illegal and unsafe journey at sea. As it can be extremely dangerous, this is something you need to carefully think about.

While at sea, you are exposed to many threats. They include danger of a shipwreck due to the bad weather or poor boat conditions, abductions to Libya and Tunisia, the risk of being brought back by the coast guard to Libya, and potential push backs illegally operated by EU national authorities. In the last 15 years more than 30,500 people died making the crossing. Here you can find more accurate data.

Additionally, you may be accused and arrested by the police for leading the ship. It’s not sure that if you are rescued at sea you will be taken to a port in Italy or in any other EU country.

Watch the Med published a guidebook on what to do when at sea. You may want to have a look at it before embarking.

Who can help?

If in distress while crossing the Central Mediterranean, you can call the Maltese Coast Guard (+35621257267) or the Italian Coast Guard (+39065923569) for rescue.

If you are not promptly rescued or if you are being pushed back, you can call the WatchTheMed - Alarme Phone (+33486517161), which is not a rescue number but an alarm number to support rescue operations.