The International Organization for Migration (IOM); the UN refugee agency, UNCHR; and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also called for coordinated search and rescue mechanisms.
The tragedy occurred between Thursday 3 August and Friday 4 August, and to date, only four survivors have been rescued – all by a merchant vessel.
The survivors, brought to Lampedusa by the Italian Coast Guard, reported that they were among a group of 45 people, of whom 41 remain missing, including three children.
IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF are present in Lampedusa to support the authorities in both the disembarkation and initial reception phases to ensure that people seeking international protection can apply for it and that those with special needs are promptly identified.
The numbers add to the growing death toll of shipwrecks in the Central Mediterranean.
According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, more than 1,800 people have been reported dead or missing along the Central Mediterranean route so far in 2023. This route accounts for more than 75 per cent of the victims in the entire Mediterranean over the past 10 years.
The ill-fated vessel – an iron barge – had embarked from Sfax, Tunisia, but its journey was cut short by the unforgiving waves.
Dangerous weather conditions make crossings in iron vessels particularly perilous, the UN agencies said.
Such tragedies also highlight smugglers’ total disregard for the lives of migrants and refugees making these journeys, the UN agencies added, noting that only a few days ago, a pregnant mother and a child lost their lives off Lampedusa.
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called for better management of migration and refugee flows.
In a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, he urged action to address the root causes, responses in transit countries, trafficking and safe routes, for those on the move.
But tragedies like the Mediterranean shipwreck will happen again unless states invest more in organized, coordinated rescue at sea, he said.