That mix of fear, hope and greed has now produced a horrifying record.
More people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year than ever before
: at least 3,800. That's about 90 a week. It's nearly 13 every day.
Here's a look at how we got to this point.
They have no choice. They are Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, escaping war. They are Nigerians and Eritreans in search of a better life.
More than 65 million people
have fled their homes; 1 in 3 of them are refugees. We're in the midst of the largest migration of refugees since World War II.
The sheer number dwarfs the population of many countries.
Would you risk these odds?
Even though fewer people are crossing this year than in 2015, more people are dying as they try to make the journey.
One person out of every 88 has been lost at sea trying to reach the shores of Greece, Italy or Spain.
That means they're 90 times more likely to die
on the journey than an American is likely to die of gunshot wounds.
Where are they heading?
There are three main routes across the Mediterranean.
Eastern Route: Last year, the route from Turkey to Greece was the busiest by far, but a deal between the European Union and Ankara has brought the numbers down. Still, it remains a heavily trafficked route.
Central Route: Libya has no government, which gives people smugglers plenty of freedom to operate out of north Africa. Traffic has been busy this year between Libya and Italy.
Western Route: West Africa is far from the Middle Eastern hotspots and poor sub-Saharan African countries that produce most migrants to Europe. And relatively small numbers of people try to reach the continent from there. But even so, a steady trickle crosses the sea at the narrow point south of Spain.
Where are they fleeing from?
More than a million people have fled Somalia. Nearly three million have escaped Afghanistan. But it is Syria, wracked by civil war for more than five years, that produces the most refugees: nearly five million.
Just how bad is it in Syria?
The Syrian refugees may outnumber any other country's refugees, but they make up less than half the number of Syrians driven from their homes by the war.
Far more are internally displaced -- still in Syria, but living like refugees in the country.
And then, of course, an unknown number of people have been killed in the war. International agencies stopped trying to count the dead years ago.
The latest estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number somewhere around 430,000.
If that's right, it means about one out of every 50 people in the country has been killed.
Where do they go?
President Obama vowed that the United States would resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, and by August, the administration was saying it would surpass the target
. Justin Trudeau vowed Canada would take 25,000
when he became prime minister last year.
But far more are claiming asylum in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would take one million refugees.
And all across Europe, refugees from Syria are claiming asylum.
But far more stay in the Middle East. Syria's own neighbors host the vast majority of people trying to escape the war.
And there's little hope the war will end any time soon -- so the refugees will keep fleeing.
And they will keep dying.