The feared drowning of 400 migrants in a shipwreck this week in the Mediterranean Sea — one of the deadliest such tragedies in the last decade — raised alarms Wednesday amid an unprecedented wave of migration toward Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
The U.N. refugee agency expressed shock at the scale of the deaths in Monday’s capsizing and renewed calls on European governments to redouble search and rescue efforts, while the International Organization for Migration maintained that the situation had reached “crisis proportions.”
The Italian Coast Guard rescued some 140 people off the coast of Libya on Monday and recovered nine bodies, but could see immediately from the size of the capsized smuggler’s boat that there had likely been hundreds more on board.
The rescue was made during a five-day surge that saw Italian ships save nearly 10,000 people at sea since Friday — an unprecedented rate in such a short period. The number is only likely to grow, with summer weather encouraging even more people fleeing poverty and conflict to make the perilous crossing.
Survivors of Monday’s shipwreck reported that as many as 550 people were on board, according to aid workers.