Some went under, like the 500 killed, when their angry traffickers sank their boat on purpose in September, according to survivors. The men, women and children had refused to transfer to very small boat they felt sure would not hold them and wasn’t seaworthy.
They asked to be taken back to their departure port in Egypt. Instead the traffickers rammed their boat and laughed while they watched it sink, the survivors said.
More than 207,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean for Europe this year illegally — almost three times the previous high of about 70,000 in 2011, the agency said. That’s 60% of the 348,000 boat migrants worldwide this year.
Figures on such crossings is inexact, as many boats elude detection.
“Europe, facing conflicts to its south (Libya), east (Ukraine) and south-east (Syria/Iraq) is seeing the largest number of sea arrivals,” the UNHCR said.
Nearly 50% of the sea arrivals are from the civil-war ravaged Syria and from Eritrea, where a dictator has ruled for more than 20 years, and where, Human Rights Watch says, young people are forcibly conscripted into the military, often for open-ended servitude akin to slavery.
The Italian government has led search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean — called Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea” — rescuing tens of thousands of migrants. Despite pleas from various aid agencies, it ended those operations in October.
But boat migrants come from many conflict regions.
The Horn of Africa region saw an estimated 82,680 people crossing mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia making their way to Yemen and other countries in the Middle East.
And in Asia, nearly 54,000 people have taken to the sea, the majority from Bangladesh and Myanmar crossing through the Bay of Bengal.
Last month, at least 24 people died after a boat carrying 43 illegal migrants and asylum seekers sank near Istanbul, Turkey. Nine of the passengers were carrying Afghan passports