When Doa al-Zamel and her fiancé embarked on a voyage across the Mediterranean in an Egyptian fishing trawler, they felt their dream was coming true. “We were going to be married in Italy, and then we would live in Europe – we hadn’t decided where,” says Zamel, a slim 19-year-old Syrian with gentle eyes. She and her family had fled the war-torn city of Dara’a and spent two-and-a-half years in a refugee camp in Egypt. Her flight, even from that safe haven, is a reminder of the state of limbo in which similar camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon keep some three million Syrian refugees. What Zamel and 500 fellow travelers met with was nothing short of mass murder on the high seas. They set sail from the Egyptian coast on September 6, with the boat covered with humans from the bow to the stern across all three decks. “On the fourth day after we set sail, between noon and two o’clock, we were met by another fishing vessel,” Zamel recalls. “The people on it asked us to stop. They threw pieces of metal and wood at us and swore at our captain. Our boat refused to stop and they rammed us. They waited until we had sunk and they left.” Hamad Raad, a 24-year-old Palestinian barber from Gaza, was in the hold when the ship was rammed astern on the port side. “As soon as the craft was struck it listed to the left,” he says, throwing panicking women and children seated on the starboard side across the floor. “We started to sink from the stern quickly. The shouts and noise went on for maybe 20 seconds. We heard nothing after that,” he says. The trawler sank in minutes. Most of the passengers were below decks. “Some people grabbed ropes hanging from the ship’s masts to save themselves. Some were cut to pieces by the propeller when they fell into the water. Most drowned,” Zamel said. “We were from Sudan, Africa, Egypt, Syria, some from Libya, some Palestinians from Gaza.” Raad says he swam out through an open window and watched the ship’s bow disappear vertically beneath the waves. The identity of the ramming vessel and its motives remain a mystery. Greece’s Hellenic Coast Guard says the attackers may have been the contracting people smugglers themselves, trying to reclaim the boat for a different set of passengers. Among those who drowned was Zamel’s fiance. She estimates between 100 and 125 people initially survived. They clutched plastic canisters, life vests, and inflatable toys to remain afloat, but over the next three days, as they drifted across the open sea without food or water, most perished. “Some people died of stress; others willed it to happen,” says Zamel. “One man took off his own life vest and sank. Some died of fear, some of cold.” As hope of being rescued diminished, people resorted to desperate measures. Zamel became a focus of attention because she had an inflatable plastic ring. “A grandfather who had a one-year-old baby girl on a canister asked me to look after it because I had an inflatable ring. And I put the baby on the ring and kept it,” she says, fighting back tears.” Then a mother came with an 18-month-old baby girl and a six-year-old girl and asked me to take care of the baby, and I kept it too. I watched the grandfather and the mother and her older daughter die. The one-year-old baby died just before we were rescued.” Zamel says the thought of saving the infants she had been entrusted with helped her stay alive. She managed to save the 18-month-old girl, who recovered from kidney failure after two days in intensive care on Crete. She said the goal of saving the two babies increased her determination to survive. She was rescued by a Liberian-flagged vessel some 90 nautical miles south-west of Crete on September 13.” “Three thousand people have drowned so far this year in the Mediterranean. It is unbelievable that such tragic loss of life takes place on Europe’s doorstep,” said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR’s regional representative for southern Europe. UNHCR’s Jolles said Doaa’s ordeal and the number of people who drowned was yet another sign of the need to do more to resolve the problem of people risking all to reach Europe. “There is an urgent need for a joint European response, based on collaboration among states and European Union support,” he said. “For the moment, an efficient rescue operation needs to be maintained aimed at saving lives, in absence of other available alternatives,” Jolles stressed in a clear reference to the Italian Navy’s operation which has rescued 150,000 people at sea since late October 2013, including many people in need of international protection.