More than 200 refugees have been killed in two disasters off the coast of Libya as Europe’s attention focuses on a landmark legal ruling on Brexit.
The tragedies push the known number of asylum seekers who have died attempting to reach Europe this year over 4,000, with 2016 now officially the deadliest year on record.
She said the information was confirmed by two of the 31 survivors brought ashore on the Italian island of Lampedusa, who said their boats overturned in rough seas.
An information bulletin given to search and rescue boats by Italian commanders said one rubber boat capsized off the coast of Libya on Wednesday morning while carrying more than 120 people.
A commercial ship and the Siem Pilot, operated by EU border agency Frontex, were deployed and rescued almost 30 survivors but up to 100 passengers were feared to have drowned.
During a search for bodies, another vessel operated by Save the Children found two women swimming in the sea who said they had been on another boat that capsized, killing 120 people.
Survivors, mostly from Guinea and Nigeria, were transferred to an Italian navy vessel and taken to Lampedusa, with two evacuated for urgent medical treatment.
More boats continued to launch from Libya on Thursday after a spell of rough seas delayed departures for several days.
Four rubber boats and a small wooden vessel had been rescued by the afternoon, with operations to take refugees off another dinghy ongoing.
The latest tragedies push the International Organisation for Migration’s count of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea at 4,220 so far this year.
A join report by British universities and specialists in Malta, Italy and Greece, has found that Europe’s response to the crisis has failed to tackle people smuggling and possibly worsened deaths.
Professor Heaven Crawley, an author from Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR), told The Independent politicians have been “wantonly ignoring” the reality of the crisis to maintain ill-informed government positions.
“The problem is there’s a huge political agenda around migration, so more pragmatic of effective alternatives are being overridden by political aspirations of leaders across the EU,” she said.
“They’ve backed themselves into a political corner where it’s very difficult to do anything else.”
The UK is part of the EU’s Operation Sophia mission, seeing ships patrol the Libyan coast for surveillance and rescue any boats in distress.
The move has driven a shift towards smaller and less seaworthy boats by people smugglers hoping to evade detection, driving a rise in death rates in the Central Mediterranean – now the deadliest sea crossing in the world.
Just over a quarter of the 332,000 migrants to have arrived by sea in Europe so far this year are Syrian, followed by Afghans, Iraqis, Nigerians, Eritreans and numerous other nationalities from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.