An Estimated 700 Refugees Died Trying to Reach Italy in a Single Week

Three boats carrying refugees from Libya have capsized in three days on the Mediterranean sea resulting in an estimated 700 deaths. It is the highest recorded number of deaths on the sea in a single week since April of 2015, when a ship sank with an estimated 800 people trapped inside.

“This week was a massacre,” said Giovanna Di Benedetto, a spokeswoman in Sicily with Save the Children. “It really looks like that in the last period the situation is really worsening in the last week, if the news is confirmed,”

It is hard to give a definitive number of casualties as when ships carrying refugees capsize or are wrecked the bodies often sink in the sea and are never recovered. The only real evidence of their deaths is the testimony of friends and family members that survived the wreck.

“This was a very intense and exceptional week for the number of fatalities,” said Federico Fossi, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He added that the death toll is only likely to increase “and surely many of those victims will be women and children, as usual.”

The largest number of deaths came from the sinking of a wooden fishing boat being towed by another smugglers’ boat from the Libyan port of Sabratha on Thursday. An estimated 400 to about 550 are missing in that sinking alone.

The majority of migrants trying to cross the sea are from sub-Saharan countries such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, but officials are now concerned that, with the the route through Greece largely shut down, refugees of the war in Syria will turn to the route from Libya to Italy to reach Europe.

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