Q&A: Mediterranean migrant boat tragedy
Points on what could be the Mediterranean's deadliest maritime disaster.
What is the scale of the problem?
In the latest incident, as many as 900 people are feared to have drowned. It could be the Mediterranean's deadliest maritime disaster and marks the worst incident in a crisis that has been escalating over recent months. Up to 1,500 migrants have drowned on their way to Europe this year alone.The Italian Navy and coastguard brought more than 13,000 people ashore in the space of just a week. Figures suggest that last year more than 130,000 migrants and refugees crossed Europe's southern borders by sea.
From where are the migrants coming?
Much of the influx has been attributed to a mass exodus from North Africa, with civil unrest in Libya seen as a key factor. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi singled out the country, saying it was the starting point for about 90% of the migrants attempting to reach his country by sea.;
In what conditions are migrants making the journey?
Many of those attempting to reach Europe are packed into rickety, crowded boats, often by people-trafficking gangs. In the latest tragedy, reports suggest that hundreds of those crammed onto the boat were locked in the hold. It is thought the 20-metre (66-foot) vessel may have capsized after migrants rushed to one side when they saw the passing Portuguese merchant ship King Jacob approaching. In an earlier incident, a number of migrants were discovered adrift at sea with severe burns after they boarded a boat without treatment following a gas explosion.
What has the weather got to do with it?
The flow of people attempting to reach Europe is expected to continue as temperatures rise and seas become calmer.
What rescue arrangements are in place?
This has been a controversial issue. An Italian scheme called Mare Nostrum was abandoned late last year despite rescuing tens of thousands of people making the treacherous journey. It was replaced with a more limited EU border security operation. The latest developments have prompted renewed calls for the previous operation to be restored.
What was Britain's stance?
The UK argued search and rescue operations might encourage more illegal immigrants. In the light of recent incidents, Labour called on the Government to reverse its "immoral" withdrawal of support for search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
What is being done now?
EU foreign ministers will discuss measures to halt the rising death toll at a meeting today. Arriving at the talks, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the response must "include targeting the criminals who are managing this traffic in human suffering".