Dozens of bodies have been recovered from the Mediterranean Sea and brought ashore on Lampedusa after one of the worst tragedies involving African migrants trying to reach Europe.
The mayor described the scenes on the quayside as “horrific, like a cemetery”.
Hundreds of people are missing after their boat sank about a kilometre from the Italian island.
It is thought the boat capsized after migrants poured to one side of the vessel to escape a fire on board.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees praised the rescue operation, which involved the Italian coastguard, police and customs officials.
A local health chief said the refugees were mostly from Somalia but the UNHCR believes they were all Eritreans.
Italy’s Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge said new measures must be implemented to respond to what she called a “natural phenomenon”.
The Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said the entire international community and especially the European Union had a duty to put the brakes on what he called “traffickers of death who exploit the hopes of the poor”.
The European Commission said a new system to help identify boats carrying refugees would be brought in as soon as possible.
Pope Francis, who visited Lampedusa in July, said the word that came to mind was “shame”.
“Let’s unite our efforts so that tragedies like this are not repeated. Only strong cooperation involving everyone can help prevent them,” he said.
More than 150 survivors were rescued, including reportedly a young Tunisian people trafficker who has been arrested.
The boat is thought to have been carrying up to 500 migrants. The search has been continuing at sea. By mid-afternoon more than 90 bodies had been recovered, including women and young children.
This year more than 22,000 have disembarked on southern Italian coasts, almost three times the total number for the whole of 2012.
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