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                   “We risked our lives to come here,” said Mohammad, 17, “We knew it is not safe. We do it, or we die.”

Alone on the move to Europe, their friendship started when seven Gambian boys met while waiting to travel by boat from Libya to Italy. Referencing their journey, the boys named their crew “Do it or die”.

three youths laugh on a beach in Sicily

Imprisoned in Gambia for almost two months after removing a political party flag from his compound, Mohammad escaped and went directly to Libya. He said, “I knew if they caught me again, they would put me in a second prison I couldn’t get out of.” Mohammad, centre, walks on a beach with his crew in Sicily.

a dentention centre in Italy

The route through the Saharan desert to Libya is harrowing for many. The boys faced over-crowded trucks, bandits and extortion demands. “At any checkpoint in the desert, you have to give money or they beat you,” said Alieu, 17. Abdullah massages Alieu’s back at the reception centre in Pozzallo.

Visiting a public zoo in Sanna, Italy

Like many migrants and refugees, the boys were using a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system – working at various points of the journey to raise money for the next stage’s travel.  “Any work to have money to come here,” Sanna, 17, explained, “we were like slaves.” Sanna visits the public zoo in Pozzallo.

the crew walks past a smuggler's boat in Sicily

Abdullah paid 1000 Libyan dinars (USD$742) for the sea passage, “People were crying, and then the boat started sinking […] We were just floating and shouting when we saw our rescuer - it was the Italian Marines.”  The crew walk past a smuggler’s boat in a ship graveyard in Sicily.

Mohammed fist bumps with a local resident

Now seeking asylum in Italy, Abdullah and his friends are desperate to move on. “I can go to high school, but I don’t know when I can begin. I don’t even know when we get out of here.” Mohammad fist bumps with a local resident after chatting during an outing from the reception centre.