As North Africa faces increasing hardship at home, its citizens leave for chance of a better life.

The small fiberglass boat had begun to take on water not long after the engine stopped working. Its six passengers started bailing it out, not knowing how long they could keep the sea at bay, the Associated Press reported.

Waleed, a Tunisian man who, along with five others, was hoping to cross the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe, estimates they removed water from the boat for roughly five hours.

“We were so desperate,” he said.

Then, at first daylight on Sept. 20, the crew of a rescue vessel spotted them through binoculars. They saw Waleed and the others waving and directing a laser light at them.

The migrants were a few miles away from the Geo Barents, a rescue vessel operated by the charity Doctors Without Borders. It had been patrolling the Central Mediterranean off conflict-wracked Libya since earlier that month. A team from the charity, known by its French acronym MSF, was immediately dispatched.

They found six men: three Libyans, two Tunisians and a Moroccan. The group had embarked a day earlier from Libya’s coastal town of Zawiya, a major launching point for migrants attempting the dangerous voyage. All six say they were fleeing difficult or threatening situations in Libya, where three of them had relocated years before due to economic troubles at home.

North African Arabs represent a large and seemingly growing proportion of the migrants who are trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean.

According to recent numbers published by Italy’s Interior Ministry, three of the top 10 countries of origin for migrants arriving in the country in 2021 were North African. Tunisians alone accounted for 29% of the migrants, followed by Egyptians with 9% and Moroccans with 3%.

Late on Monday, the newest influx to Italy came by sea when around 700 migrants crammed into a rusty fishing boat reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, located mid-way between Tunisia and the Italian mainland. Many appeared to be men from North Africa or the Middle East.

Their increasing numbers also point to precarious situations in their home countries, where government resources are strained by burgeoning youth populations. Many have already spent harrowing years inside Libya, once a destination for migrant labor because of its relative wealth.

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