90 migrants feared drowned
Up to 90 migrants are believed to have drowned off the coast of Libya after their boat capsized, the UN's migration agency has said.
Many of the victims are believed to be Pakistani.
"At least 90 migrants are reported to have drowned when a boat capsized off the coast of Libya this morning," the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said in a statement.
It added that "10 bodies are reported to have washed up on Libyan shores", near the town of Zuwara.
Two survivors were reported to have made it ashore, while another was rescued by a fishing boat.
There has been a recent increase in the number of Pakistanis trying to make the boat crossing from Libya towards Italy.
Last year, more than 3,100 Pakistanis reached Italy by sea, which made Pakistan the 13th-largest nationality among migrants.
This year, however, Pakistan is already the third-most-numerous nationality, after around 240 migrants made the crossing in January.
Humanitarian organisations say that they are unclear as to why the number of Pakistani migrants has increased by so many.
"We are trying to figure it out," Olivia Headon, of the IOM, said.
"It's quite a jump in numbers, but it is unclear whether it will be a trend that will continue throughout the rest of the year," she added.
Trafficking networks are quick to identify new markets, routes and nationalities in a highly fluid situation.
"Smugglers sell migrants the idea of Europe as a kind of paradise, they are very good salesmen.
"Migrants may know the risks of the sea crossing, but they think it will be worth it," said Ms Headon.
Last year some 119,000 migrants and refugees managed to reach Italy.
Most of them arrived after they had been rescued at sea by European navies and coastguards.
Others were rescued by vessels that are operated by humanitarian non-governmental organisations.
The year before, some 181,000 made it to Italy.
Migration has become a key issue in Italy's election campaign, with voters due to go to the polls on March 4.
Major parties, including Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the right-wing League - formerly the Northern League - have said that Italy can no longer accept such high numbers of migrants.
They have made calls for hundreds of thousands of migrants who are already in the country to be repatriated.
"In the last few years Italy repatriated 15,000 migrants.
"It would be my aim to triple that number," said Matteo Salvini, the head of the League party.
If countries in Africa and elsewhere refused to take back the migrants, then excise duties would be imposed on their exports to Italy, Mr Salvini has said.
"Either they collaborate on migration or we hit them with excise duties," he told 'La Stampa' in an interview yesterday.
Last month he said that if he was elected prime minister, he would aim to expel half a million migrants who are currently living in Italy.
The League is in an uneasy alliance with Mr Berlusconi's party and a hard-right party, Brothers of Italy, and together they are predicted to win around 35pc of the vote - the largest share of any political bloc.
In order to form a government they would then have to forge a coalition with another party.
This could possibly be the centre-left Democratic Party of former prime minister Matteo Renzi. (© Daily Telegraph London)