A migrant boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, leaving more than 40 people unaccounted for, according to the UN.
According to UNHCR representative in Italy Chiara Cardoletti, the shipwreck occurred on Thursday, and at least one newborn baby is among those missing.
The ship set sail from Sfax in Tunisia, carrying 46 migrants from Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast, according to Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the UN migration agency IOM.
The boat capsized in strong winds and high waves, he said. “Some survivors were taken to Lampedusa and others were brought back to Tunisia”.
“Among those missing were seven women and a minor. The survivors are all adult men”, he added.
“We have noticed more arrivals of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa than Tunisians” via the Tunisian route since November, he said.
He explained this was due to people from sub-Saharan Africa fleeing discrimination in Tunisia.
“It is unacceptable to continue counting the dead at the gates of Europe”, Cardoletti wrote on Twitter, referring to deadly shipwrecks of migrant boats which have already occurred in Italy, Greece and Spain.
“A coordinated and shared rescue mechanism at sea between states is now also a matter of conscience.”
Di Giacomo also stressed the fragility of the badly welded boats, which sank at the first damage.
“We are therefore not aware of certain shipwrecks,” he said, calling for “patrols of European ships to monitor the Tunisian route as well as the Libyan route, otherwise we will witness a disaster this summer.”
Located about 145 kilometres (90 miles) from the Tunisian coast, the southern Italian island of Lampedusa is one of the main entry points for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
Last year, more than 46,000 people arrived there, out of a total of 105,000 in Italy, according to the UNHCR.
Migrant boat shipwrecks have increased in recent months, while the number of migrants entering the EU via the central Mediterranean “more than doubled” in 2023 compared to the same period last year, according to the European border agency Frontex in mid-June.
Last week a crammed trawler from Libya sank off the Greek coast. The death toll stands at 82, with 104 survivors pulled from the water, but witness accounts suggest many hundreds more went down with the ship, with their remains still missing at sea.
The tragedy occurred a few days after EU ministers reached an agreement on a long-stalled revision of the bloc’s rules to share the hosting of asylum seekers and migrants more equitably.
In September 2020, the European Commission presented a New Pact on Migration and Asylum, a package of reforms which it hopes to see adopted by spring 2024 which notably concerns compulsory help between EU members in the care of asylum seekers and a strengthening of the external borders.