Some 300 migrants who tried to cross the frigid Mediterranean in open, rubber boats, were reported missing Wednesday by survivors as the UN refugee agency and other aid groups sharply criticized the new EU rescue operation as insufficient and costing lives.
The suspected deaths add to the 29 reported earlier in the week by the Italian coast guard, which said those victims had died of hypothermia during the voyage that began over the weekend in Libya, where most smuggling operations originate.
The United Nations high commissioner for refugees said survivors had reported that four boats had left together, without food or water, and that the boats began taking on water almost immediately. Some 107 people had been rescued by the Italian coast guard and a merchant ship.
The agency’s spokeswoman in Italy, Carlotta Sami, said the victims had been “swallowed up by the waves,” the youngest a child of 12.
The nationalities of the survivors and those missing were not immediately given, but a large proportion of those arriving at the moment are fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Mali and elsewhere.