The majority of migrants travelling from North Africa to Europe by boat have likely fallen prey to trafficking and exploitation, a report by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) has concluded.
The report, based on surveys of 1,600 migrants and refugees in Italy, states that over 70% of those making the harrowing trek across the Mediterranean showed strong signs of having been trafficked, exploited, or abused along the way.
Forms of exploitation that migrants suffered include forced work, work without compensation, or being held against their will. Some also reported having been approached by someone offering a job or to arrange a marriage. A small minority of travelers reported having been aware of migrants being approached to sell their own blood, organs or body parts.
Migrants traveling alone or with non-family members faced the greatest risk of being victimized, as did those spending greater amounts of time in transit–particularly those originally from countries in Eastern and Western Africa.
While migrants originally from North African countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Morocco were the least likely to encounter exploitative practices, Libya proved to be a breeding ground for those exploiting foreign migrants. The overwhelming majority of cases involving kidnappings and forced work, in fact, took place in Libya.
There are currently no accurate statistics detailing the number of Tunisian migrants that have taken the same path to Europe. A 2012 analysis by the EU agency Frontex estimated that in the months immediately following the revolution over 25,000 Tunisians illegally set sail to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Beyond the threat of exploitation and trafficking, migrants also face the danger of drowning at sea. According to IOM statistics, nearly 4,000 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean last year, and many more have narrowly escaped the same fate during the journey.