At least two hundreds migrants are dead after the motorboats they were travelling on sank in the Mediterranean Sea, the UN’s refugee agency says.
“Nine were saved after four days at sea. The other 203 were swallowed by the waves,” UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Italy, Carlotta Sami, said on Twitter.
She called the situation a “horrible and enormous tragedy”.
On February 9, at least 29 migrants died after the inflatable boat carrying them overturned in high seas.
Seven were already dead when they were picked up near the Italian island of Lampedusa, and a further 22 succumbed to hypothermia after spending more than 18 hours on the open deck of the vessel which picked them up.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the two boats involved in the latest tragedy to befall migrants bound for Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea had departed from the Libyan coast on February 7.
The IOM says that each boat was carrying more than 100 people when they capsized, probably on February 9.
The nine survivors all speak French, and are believed to be from West Africa.
The Italian government launched a search and rescue mission called Mare Nostrum to patrol the waters off the Libyan coast for ships carrying migrants that may have run into trouble in response to a previous tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa.
The mission was launched after a fishing boat capsized off the island in October 2013, killing 366 people, but was disbanded a year later.
Lebanon has imposed stricter conditions for Syrians entering the country in a bid to slow the flow of asylum seekers trying to escape the war.
Previously, travel between Syria and Lebanon was largely unrestricted, but now Syrians will have to obtain a visa.
Lebanon hosts more than a million Syrian refugees and this is the latest step to try to stem the influx.
Millions of Syrians have been displaced by the civil war as rebel forces try to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
The uprising began with protests against Bashar al-Assad’s rule in 2011 and degenerated into civil war in 2012. The rise of Islamist groups has added to the refugee problem.
Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, is one of the most affected country by the large numbers of refugees.
Before now, Syrians could stay in Lebanon for up to six months automatically. Under the new measure, Syrians wanting to enter Lebanon will have to fulfill certain criteria in order to be granted a visa at the border.
It is unclear what the rule will mean for the many Syrians already in the country and not registered as refugees.
Every Syrian wanting to enter Lebanon will need to state a clear purpose for their visit, and, if approved, a visa will be issued for a certain duration.
Syrians coming to work in Lebanon will also have to be sponsored by a Lebanese individual or company.
A spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Ron Redmond, said that over the past 6 to 8 months a number of measures had already reduced the number of people seeking registration as refugees. But the UN had worked out a system with the government to enable the most vulnerable to still gain access.
Lebanon has long been struggling to cope with the number of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
There are currently more than 1.1 million registered refugees in Lebanon putting a huge strain on the country’s infrastructure and resources.
The Lebanese government says the actual number of refugees in the country is about 1.6 million.
Clearly the Lebanese government wants to reduce the flow, says Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut.
Many refugees live in poor conditions.
In October, Lebanon’s social affairs minister announced that the country would stop accepting all refugees except emergency cases, but would still allow Syrians to enter for other purposes, such as work and tourism.
The latest UNHCR figures show a total of 3.2 million Syrians registered as refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere.