As many as 500 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean after traffickers rammed their boat off Malta's coast last week, the International Organization for Migration said on Monday.
In what IOM describes as “the worst shipwreck in years,” Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, and Sudanese are presumed to have lost their lives as they attempted to reach Europe.
“Survivors have testified that the traffickers arrived aboard two boats and ordered the migrants to change vessels in the middle of the sea. The migrants said it was too dangerous and refused. There was a violent altercation and the traffickers used their boat to ram the migrants' boat,” IOM spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told Reuters.
On Sunday, a boat with up to 250 African emigrants trying to reach Europe sank off the Libyan coast and most are feared dead, a spokesman for the Libyan navy said.
According to Libyan officials only 36 migrants, among them three women, were rescued after the boat sank in waters off Tajoura, east of the capital Tripoli.
"There are so many dead bodies floating in the sea," Navy spokesman Ayub Qassem said on Monday, adding that the under-equipped Libyan coast guard had few resources to search for survivors.
The unrest and political chaos in Libya has turned it into a launch pad for illegal migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea for a better life in Europe, mainly Italy.
Qassem told Reuters the emigrants on the capsized boat were mostly Africans, among them women.
In recent months, scores of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East have attempted to flee conflicts in Africa, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
This year more than 100,000 have reached Italy and nearly 2,000 have perished in the hazardous crossing to Europe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee.
Some materials for this report came from Reuters and AFP.