At least 700 migrants feared drowned in Mediterranean crossing attempts
More than 700 migrants are feared dead in three Mediterranean shipwrecks near Italy in the last few days as they tried to reach Europe in unseaworthy smuggling boats, the UN refugee agency has said.
UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami told The Associated Press that an estimated 100 people are missing from a boat which capsized on Wednesday.
The Italian navy took pictures of that capsizing even as it rushed to rescue all those thrown into the sea from the vessel.
She said about 550 others are missing from a smuggling boat that capsized on Thursday morning after leaving the western Libyan port of Sabratha a day earlier.
Ms Sami says refugees claimed that boat, which was carrying about 670 people, did not have an engine and was being towed by another packed smuggling boat before it capsized.
About 25 people from the capsized boat managed to reach the first boat and survive, 79 others from it were rescued by international patrol boats and 15 bodies were recovered.
In a third shipwreck on Friday, Ms Sami says 135 people were rescued, 45 bodies were recovered and an unknown number of people are missing.
Survivors are being taken to the Italian ports of Taranto and Pozzallo.
Ms Sami says the UN agency is trying to gather information with sensitivity considering most of the new arrivals are either shipwreck survivors themselves or traumatised by what they saw.
Italy's southern islands are the main destinations for countless numbers of smuggling boats launched from the shores of Libya each week packed with people seeking jobs and safety in Europe.
Hundreds of migrants drown each year attempting the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing.