Several hundred migrants are believed to have died after four boats capsized in the Mediterranean.
Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, said there had been a migrant tragedy, as unconfirmed reports suggested the vast majority of those on board the vessels were Somalis, trying to cross the sea from Egypt to Europe.
Speaking at a prizegiving ceremony in Rome, Mr Mattarella said Europe needed to reflect in the face of “yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean in which, it seems, several hundred people have died.” He did not give any further details.
The Italian coastguard said earlier they knew nothing about the reported disaster.
It comes as a report by academics accused EU policymakers of “killing by neglect” by reducing search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
It said the cuts had potentially cost the lives of more than 1,500 migrants.