At least 200 people died and 100 others were missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in inflatable boats, the United Nations refugee agency said Wednesday.
A group of four boats carrying mainly migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa left Libya on Saturday attempting to reach Italy. Three of the boats have been accounted for so far.
The U.N. said 29 people from one boat were reported dead on Sunday, with 110 people being rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and reaching the island of Lampedusa. But only nine out of 116 passengers on the two other boats survived.
“This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Europe bureau director, said in a statement.
Lampedusa is about 110 kilometers from the African mainland, and is a major destination for illegal migrants trying to get to Europe.
A record 170,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in 2014, one quarter of them fleeing the violence in Syria. More than 3,000 others died attempting the journey.
Experts say the volume of immigration in 2015 already looks to be outpacing last year.
(Archive photo of migrants reaching Lampedusa in 2013: Frontex)