GENEVA, July 26 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said Friday that, if confirmed, the toll of 400 lives lost in the shipwreck off Libya on Thursday will be the worst known incident since May 2017.
There were reports of some 400 lives having been lost Thursday, said UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley at a UN media briefing here.
He quoted UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi as saying, "The worst Mediterranean tragedy of the year has just occurred.
"Restoring rescue at sea, an end to refugee and migrant detention in Libya, increasing safe pathways out of Libya must happen now before it is too late for many more desperate people," he said.
Yaxley said the sea disaster underscores "the terrible urgency of our repeated pleas to European and other governments for restoring sea rescues and help with alleviating the suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants caught in the conflict in Libya."
UNHCR again urged countries to come forward with additional help, including further resettlement places and other safe pathways out of Libya for people who are vulnerable and at risk.
The UN agency said such actions are as important as sea rescues for saving lives.
"In addition, more must be done to arrest and prosecute the ruthless traffickers and smugglers who profit from people's desperation, and overturn the business model on which they rely," said UNHCR.
At the same UN briefing Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported deaths recorded on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through almost seven months of 2019 are at 686 individuals.
That is about 45 percent of the 1,4008 deaths confirmed during the same period in 2018.
"These fatality figures, however, do not include casualties from a shipwreck reported off Libya late Thursday," said IOM spokesperson Joel Millman.
He said nationalities named among some 400 survivors included Eritrean, Sudanese, Palestinian and Bangladeshi.
Several children were reportedly drowned.
"All were traveling with between 2400 and 400 people who left Libya this week," said the IOM spokesperson.