Mothers in Burj Mughayzil, Egypt, swarm around a CNN crew desperate for possible news of their missing sons. Many desperately poor families in Burj Mughayzil risk their children's lives by sending them to Italy on smuggler boats so that they can earn money to send home. But the risks are great, and the reality is more likely to be death at sea or detention on arrival.
CNN's Nima Elbagir talks to one mother in Egypt who says she does not know what has happened to her son. Some 2,000 young men are missing from this one village, by their own count. A CNN investigation spent months retracing the children's journey from Egypt to Italy. Speaking to social workers and authorities, children and parents, there is evidence that many of the children were smuggled into Italy by criminal networks who use them for illegal activities.
This mother has not heard from her son, Sobhi Abdalkareem, for nearly two years. She believes he is in prison in Italy. She wanted CNN to find out when he will be home.
Ibrahim, 17, has been missing since boarding a smuggler boat to Italy. Italian authorities believe his boat sank with hundreds on board.
"I just want to know what happened so I can mourn him, rather than sitting here between life and death," Ibrahim's mother said.
These fishing boats are used by smugglers to transport thousands of children to Italy's shores. One smuggling captain told CNN that in the impoverished villages in Egypt's north, it's "either smuggle or starve."
Elbagir talks to 17-year-old Talal. He went to Italy on a smuggler boat last year, but he decided life there was too difficult and came back voluntarily.
Kareem arrived in Italy five years ago from Egypt, when he was just 12. He now works as a translator and big brother to boys who live in children's homes in the Sicilian countryside.
Some Egyptian children end up in Rome selling drugs at places like the Termini station. Emanuele Fattori, head of the railway police at the station, told CNN that he and his team have seen evidence of children being used by criminal gangs.