More than 200 migrants feared drowned in Mediterranean Sea

Two overturned boats found off coast of Libya as number of deaths jumps 27 per cent in 2016

Migrants on board the Proactiva Open Arms rescue vessel
(Image credit: David Ramos / GETTY)

More than 200 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a Spanish rescue team discovered two capsized dinghies.

Proactiva Open Arms pulled the bodies of five young men floating near the boat from the water.

Writing on its Facebook page, the group said: "We brought on board five corpses recovered from the sea, but no lives. It is a harsh reality check of the suffering here that is invisible in Europe."

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It estimated as many as 240 migrants may have died. However, the Italian coastguard told the BBC it had no way of verifying the number, although it did confirm the five deaths.

Capsized boats are "typical of spring" as the migration "season" resumes, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned last week, but the numbers seem to be increasing.

More than 20,000 migrants have arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, with around 559 believed to have gone missing or died en route.In the first three months of 2016, there were slightly fewer than 19,000 arrivals and about 350 deaths.

A spokesman for the IOM said: "We have yet to complete March and we are already racing at a pace of arrivals that has exceeded anything we've seen before in the Mediterranean.

"This is typical of spring, getting very busy, but it's not typical to have the numbers be so high this early and the corresponding deaths that go with it."

The IOM last week reported a total of 7,763 deaths of migrants fleeing poverty or violence around the world in 2016 - a 27 per cent increase on the previous year.

Frank Laczko, head of the group's migration research division, said: "I think we are still quite shocked by the figures.

"There has been so much attention in the media and in policy circles given to the rising number of deaths. But despite all of that, we still see the number of deaths, particularly in the Mediterranean, rising quite significantly last year."

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