ROME (Reuters) - Italy launched an internet, TV and radio campaign on Thursday to discourage Africans from setting out on the often deadly voyage to Europe, including real migrants telling their often harrowing stories.
In one of the video clips posted on YouTube, Facebook and the awaremigrants.org website, Cesar says he almost died of exposure at sea after his boat drifted for three days, while in another Jessica tells of how she only just escaped an anal rape attack.
"It's a road that leads to hell," Tschamba says in another of the 80 videos. When he refused to board a boat with his wife and child, a Libyan smuggler said he would kill him and dump his body in the desert if he did not.
Unable to protect his family from danger, "I held my baby and I cried and I cried and I cried," he says.
Italy remains on the front line of a migrant crisis now in its third year, with more than 400,000 migrants arriving by boat since the beginning of 2014.
The majority of migrants arriving in Italy come from Africa, and many - 60 percent last year - do not qualify for refugee status.
"Women and children suffer the most," Federico Soda, Mediterranean director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told reporters.
"Women are abused and raped, and often they arrive pregnant. Children are beaten and often traumatized when they arrive. We want them to be aware of the risks."
Italy's Interior Ministry funded and developed, with help from the IOM, the "Aware Migrants" campaign to convince migrants to stay home as both the number of arrivals and deaths climb.
"It's time to open your eyes," is the theme of the campaign, which cost 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) and was conducted in three languages - Arabic, English and French.
Each video testimony of about one minute ends with the migrant looking into the camera and warning a possible future traveler, "Be aware, brother" or "Be aware, sister".
Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean have already reached 3,000 this year, the IOM has said, and Italy has taken in about 90,000 newcomers so far in 2016. Almost 140,000 asylum seekers are being housed in shelters around the country.
"The campaign says, 'You, migrant, you are chasing your dream but you run the risk of living a nightmare,'" Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters.
Often migrants who have made the trip do not tell their friends and relatives at home the truth about their hardships, both because they have spent a lot of money on the journey and because telling the truth of their suffering can be psychologically difficult, Soda said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)