Austria said on Friday 71 refugees including a baby girl were found dead in an abandoned freezer truck, while Libya recovered the bodies of 82 migrants washed ashore after their overcrowded boat sank on its way to Europe and scores more were feared dead.
The U.N. refugee agency said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe had passed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014.
Three Bulgarians and an Afghan were arrested in connection with the truck deaths. The victims – 59 men, 8 women and four children, including a girl of 1-2 years old – were probably from Syria, police said.
At least 180 were either dead or missing in the Libyan disaster. Both tragedies were a result of a renewed surge in migrants seeking refuge from war and poverty that has confronted Europe with its worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 2,500 people have died making the sea crossing this year, compared with 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European Union leaders were ready for an emergency meeting, if needed, to discuss the refugee crisis.
A security official in the western Libyan town of Zuwara, from where the doomed migrant boat had set off, said there had been around 400 people on board. Many appeared to have been trapped in the hold when it capsized on Thursday.
“About 100 people are still missing,” said Ibrahim al-Attoushi, a Red Crescent official, and 198 had been rescued.
The migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh, the security official said.
The Libyan coast guard has limited capabilities, relying on small inflatables, tug boats and fishing vessels.
Zuwara, near the Tunisian border, is a major launchpad for smugglers shipping migrants to Italy.
Libya is a major transit route for migrants hoping to make it to Europe. Smuggling networks exploit the country’s lawlessness…