With Gaza under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade, scores of Gazans are forces to find original ways of fleeing the coastal enclave – usually through underground tunnels into Egypt and then on boats to Europe where they hope to attain refugee status. Palestinian media publishes firsthand accounts of the periling and dangerous journey.
In the worst incident, as many as 500 migrants are believed to have died after traffickers rammed their ship off Malta's coast last week, an event that only came to light this weekend in testimony from two of nine survivors. Recent reports and testimonies indicate the majority of those on the boat were Palestinian Gazans.
The number of those attempting to smuggle themselves out of the Strip increased drastically during and after the 50 day Operation Protective Edge between Israel and Hamas. Scores of people took to small boats ill prepared to carry so many travelers, and many died en route in countless other incidents.
Those hoping to take the nautical route to a new life in the EU are forced to pay thousands of dollars, some of them even use the money given to them in compensation for damage sustained to their homes during IDF air strikes on Gaza to flee.
The last incident took place on Saturday: An Egyptian security source got in contact a number of families in Gaza and informed them that a smuggling boat carrying the loved ones left from the port city of Alexandria bound for Italy but drowned during the journey.
Egyptian naval forces managed to rescue some travelers, but others were declared missing, including children. A number of survivors were taken to Cairo, from where their relatives where forced to come and pick them up so as to return them to Gaza through the Rafah Crossing. According to estimates, that specific boat was carrying over 160 people.
Other Gazans who attempted to flee to Italy last week said their smugglers downed their own boat on purpose across from the shores of Malta.
The survivors said the traffickers ordered the migrants to change vessels in the middle of the Mediterranean. The migrants refused, leading to a confrontation that ended when traffickers rammed the ship carrying the migrants, causing it to sink, International Organisation for Migration spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said Monday.
"Some 500 people were on board - Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese. They were trying to reach Europe," Berthiaume said.
One of the survivors said "after they downed the ship, the traffickers waited to see that we were drowning before changing boats and fleeing. Some of them imitated us (drowning) and laughed." They further said smugglers made them switch at least three boats.
The issue has sparked anger and political infighting among Palestinians, with Fatah blaming Hamas for the problem, saying that despite being aware of the dangers, the Gaza regime still cooperates with smugglers, something they described as treasonous.
Reuters contributed to this report