Sfax, Tunisia – Having attempted the journey twice in the past six months, Mohammed Sowe, a Gambian man in his mid-20s, has no illusions about the danger that awaits refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

The first time he tried to travel from the Tunisian port of Sfax, the boat he was on was stopped by Tunisia’s coastguard. During his second attempt, the sea almost took the lives of Sowe and the other passengers on board the flat-bottomed, keelless boat.

“The water was coming up over the sides,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that the waves were so violent that the passengers of the self-crewed boat were forced to make the decision to abandon their 350km (215-mile) journey after four to five hours at sea.