No fewer than 6,600 migrants and refugees were rescued in four days from May 5 to 8, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
Ms Cécile Pouilly, a Spokesperson for the UNHCR said from Geneva that rescuers were still on the lookout for up to 245 people missing after two shipwrecks at the weekend.
Ms. Pouilly said: “rescue at sea operations, including by the Italian Coast Guard, in coordination with Frontex and Non-Governmental Organisations are of crucial importance’’.
“A rubber dinghy sank on Friday night with an estimated 132 people on board. Some 50 people were rescued and disembarked in Sicily on Sunday, but more than 80 people are feared dead.
“More recently, seven people out of an estimated 170 were rescued from a shipwreck that took place on Sunday off the coast of Libya.
“This brings the number of migrants and refugees killed while trying to cross the straits to at least 1,309 this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM),” she said.
Pouilly said the two latest shipwrecks came amid favourable weather over the weekend and improved sea conditions.
She said the likelihood of shipwreck was increasing as smugglers put more and more people on boats, adding the quality of vessels was decreasing.
The UNHCR spokesperson added that as the weather warms, more people were expected to launch.
In cases of shipwrecks, finding survivors has become more difficult, according to her.
People on smuggler boats are increasingly less likely to have a satellite phone, a trend that Pouilly said was confirmed by the Italian coast guard.
“Between 2015 and 2016, the availability of those phones had decreased by half, so people were much more difficult to locate when problems occurred and could not call for help.
“There are confirmed reports of armed gangs attacking migrants on the high seas between Libya and Italy to steal their mobile phones and boat engines,’’ she said.