More than 200 migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean over the weekend trying to reach European shores, according to testimony from survivors.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says it recorded more than 6,000 people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy from Friday to Sunday.
But the perilous journey in rickety, overcrowded boats means many of those risking everything don’t survive.
“Actually the Italian Coastguard has informed us of a rescue, where some 70 people were aboard an inflatable boat that mentioned that another, more or less, 70 people were missing,” said UNHCR spokesperson Medea Savary.
“We are still trying to get more information from the people who will disembark over the coming days to see whether there are survivors of this incident but this tragically brings the total number of people dead and missing since the beginning of the year to more than 1,150.”
Migrant arrivals in Italy by sea are up by about 30 per cent this year compared to 2016, when a record 181,000 came, according to the UNHCR.
An increasing number of Syrian families are said to be among those making the treacherous journey from Libya where a breakdown of law and order has allowed people smugglers to operate with impunity.
“The increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, with an average of 100 to 150 people, are alarming and the main cause of shipwrecks,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Sunday.
“Risks are increased by the worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones,” Grandi said.
Felix Dappah with agency reports