The stretch of water between Italy’s southern tip and western Libya is the deadliest in the Mediterranean. 2500 people drowned attempting to reach Europe so far in 2017, with more than 100,000 reaching Italy before the year’s end. It is a volatile tapestry of competing interests: humanitarian organisations rescuing refugees, the EU’s border force FRONTEX patrolling the southern frontier, the Libyan coastguard turning back migrants, and right-wing activists claiming to defend Europe from Islamic extremism.
The challenge of crossing the Mediterranean is simply the last obstacle in a gauntlet the stretches as far as Libya’s southern desert and beyond. ISIS controls swathes of the country and enslaves or executes non-Muslims. Bandits kidnap migrants and demand extortions from their families. And three regional governments seeking to spread their influence wage war throughout the country. Those making the journey come from as far west as The Gambia and as far east and Bangladesh but they are all seeking the same goal: Europe.
This series of pictures was made over a period of one month on board the search and rescue vessel the Vos Hestia, operated by Save the Children, between Sicily and Libya.
Louis Leeson is a reportage photojournalist with a background in documentary film. He studied at the London College of Communication from 2009 to 2012 where he received a First Class BA (Hons) in Photojournalism. Louis works in the UK and internationally for feature film, editorial, and humanitarian organisations. He shoots long-term investigative projects and has covered the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, FGM in The Gambia, and the refugee crisis engulfing Europe and the Middle East.
Louis’ work has been published in the Guardian, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, the Mirror, the International Business Times, Al-Jazeera, Vice News, Broadly, Huck, Nowness, Grazia, Marie Claire, Save the Children, War Child, and more. Louis is represented in the by the picture agency Eyevine.