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UN pleads for more sea refugee aid

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Libyan refugees are helped as they arrive on the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy(AP)

Libyan refugees are helped as they arrive on the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy(AP)

Libyan refugees are helped as they arrive on the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy(AP)

The UN refugee agency has urged European countries to do more to rescue people fleeing the violence in Libya and dying by hundreds in overloaded boats that capsize in the Mediterranean.

A spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said sea patrols should not wait to receive distress calls before offering assistance.

"Any boat that is leaving Libya should be considered, at first glance, as a boat in need of assistance," she said.

It appears now that hundreds of Libyans have lost their lives at sea in recent weeks.

The UN agency said that, since March 25, when boats started leaving Libya, at least 800 people are unaccounted for - and that figure does not include those who died on Friday when a boat believed to have been carrying 600 people capsized near Tripoli.

And the number of migrants is increasing, she said. Five boats carrying 2,400 people have arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa in recent days, and every one needed to be rescued by the Italian coast guard and police.

"We honestly believe that the Italian coast guard is doing its best," she said. But she added that, given how many people have drowned, "something isn't working."

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