Hundreds of migrants were rescued from the sea off the Italian coast this week as the increasing flow of desperate refugees continued to try to cross the Mediterranean despite recent shipwrecks that have cost the lives of some 700 people.
In a holding center on the island of Malta, three Palestinians from Gaza described their horrific plight on September 18 after surviving a shipwreck and seeing hundreds of the fellow shipmates die in front of them.
"The last baby died in my hands before I left. He died in the afternoon and we left at night. The baby was with his sister, mother and father among the survivors but later the father, the mother and the sister passed away and the baby stayed in my hands," said 23-year-old Mohammed Awadallah.
A devastating war with Israel has swollen the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip joining a perilous exodus of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa in search of a better life in Europe.
Palestinians with knowledge of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border say between 1,500 and 2,000 Gazans have left the enclave in the past five months, looking to board boats in Egypt and escape across the Mediterranean sea.
Some 500 people are believed to have drowned earlier this week after their boat was rammed by a people-trafficking ship when the Palestinians refused to change ships at sea.
"I call on everyone who feels like human beings to help us, we ran away from the war and the killing in Gaza to find a better life, like normal people, but we sank in the sea for five days where we were dying. We are out of the sea and now we are here living in shit," said 28-year-old Maamoun Doghmosh.
The Palestinian migrant ship set off on September 6 from Damiette, Egypt, and sank off Malta's coast on September 10th after being rammed by traffickers. Only nine people are believed to have survived.
Close to 130,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, compared with 60,000 last year, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).