MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Refugee aids say scores of migrants have drowned off the coast of Libya. The United Nations is calling it the worst migrant shipwreck this year. NPR's Ruth Sherlock says this tragedy highlights a failure of European countries to address the dangerous migrant route across the Mediterranean.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Tarik Argaz from the U.N.'s refugee agency, the UNHCR, says some 300 migrants, pregnant women and children among them, were on the crowded wooden boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
TARIK ARGAZ: Libyan fishermen spotted the shipwreck early this morning.
SHERLOCK: Initial reports suggest that as many as a hundred or even more people have drowned. Aid agencies say local fishermen saw dozens of bodies floating in the water.
SAM TURNER: It's an absolutely devastating incident that once again highlights the situation in the central Mediterranean and the continued loss of life.
SHERLOCK: Sam Turner is from Doctors Without Borders, which is helping survivors. He says this is just one of many shipwrecks this year. The European Union ended its Mediterranean Sea patrols after bitter disagreements between governments over which country should house the rescued migrants. And the EU funded the Libyan coastguard, which returns migrants back to Libya. Argaz from the U.N. says the refugee agency is absolutely against that.
ARGAZ: As soon as refugees rescued or intercepted at sea are brought back to Libya, they are immediately being sent to detention centers.
SHERLOCK: He says those seeking safety from conflict should not be punished as criminals. Many of the detention centers are squalid places, where migrants are subjected to torture or even forced into slavery. European governments met this week to discuss the crisis, but the outcomes remain unclear. Argaz says it's imperative that they find a solution before even more people perish at sea.
Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROHNE'S "MERU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.