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Shipwrecks 'kill up to 700 migrants'

Do Not UseDo Not Use 29/05/2016
Migrants wait aboard rescue ship "Aquarius" as they arrive in the port of Cagliari, Sardinia © AFP Migrants wait aboard rescue ship "Aquarius" as they arrive in the port of Cagliari, Sardinia

Up to 700 migrants are feared drowned in a series of shipwrecks off the coast of Libya in the last few days, the UN refugee agency says.

Pope Francis holds a life jacket which was donated to him by a migrants" rescuer during a meeting with some 400 children coming by train from the region of Calabria, at the Vatican: The Pope met children at the Vatican on Saturday, telling them that migrants "aren't a danger, but are in danger" © AP The Pope met children at the Vatican on Saturday, telling them that migrants "aren't a danger, but are in danger"

The boats sank south of Italy on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as the migrants tried to reach Europe in unseaworthy vessels.

Spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.

It is now a key migration route since a deal curbed numbers sailing to Greece.

Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for UNHCR, gave details of the shipwrecks:

Almost 100 migrants are missing from a smugglers' boat which capsized on Wednesday. Horrifying pictures of the incident and its aftermath were filmed by rescuers.

About 550 other migrants are missing from a boat which overturned on Thursday morning after leaving the Libyan port of Sabratha on Wednesday. Survivors said the boat had no engine and was being towed by a second smuggling vessel.

In a third shipwreck on Friday, 135 people were rescued, 45 bodies pulled from the water and an unspecified number of others are missing.

Meanwhile, the MSF Sea group suggested the death toll from the last week could be as high as 900.

Survivors are being taken to the Italian ports of Taranto and Pozzallo.

Meanwhile, the Italian authorities have said the rescue of more than 600 migrants off Libya on Saturday by a flotilla of EU ships took the weekly total to at least 13,000.

Weekly boat rescues reach 13,000

The rescues were the latest by a multinational patrol of ships operating in the Mediterranean.

Carlotta Sami told the BBC: "[One of the most worrying things] is that all these ships have left together in just the last few days.. it has put rescuers under severe pressure."

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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