More than 200 migrants are thought to be dead after their boats carrying them across the Mediterranean Sea capsized on Wednesday.
The migrants had reportedly left the Libyan coast in four dinghy boats on Saturday. The Italian coastguard rescued 9 men, all of whom are thought to be from West Africa. “The other 203 were swallowed by the waves”, said UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy Carlotta Sami.
The UNHCR regional director Vincent Cochetel said the incident is a "tragedy on an enormous scale", adding it is "a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea."
The latest sinking comes after 29 migrants died from hypothermia after initially being rescued alive by the Italian coastguard, off the coast of Libya.
The deaths follow the withdrawal of the Italian navy-run rescue program, in favour of a more limited European Union mission known as Triton.
Laurens Jolles, head of the U.N. agency for southern Europe, said however that this remained inadequate, stating, "The Triton operation doesn't have as its principal mandate saving human lives, and thus cannot be the response that is urgently needed."
Mr Cochetel called for further action, saying, "Europe cannot afford to do too little too late".