migrants boat sinks Mediterranean sea
A man lays flowers on the coffins of immigrants who died trying to reach the Italian coast. The coffins arrived from Lampedusa on 11 February, 2015 in Porto Empedocle where they will be buried in cemeteries of the area Getty Images

The European Union has been accused of failing to provide adequate assistance to hundreds of migrants believed to have died as their dinghies sank in the Mediterranean sea.

The migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, departed from Libya at the weekend.

Only two out of 107 passengers survived on one dinghy, and seven out of 109 on another one. It is believed that no one from the third dinghy survived.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman in Italy, Carlotta Sami, explained to IBtimes UK that the survivors said there was a fourth missing raft carrying some 100 migrants and it was now feared that at least 300 migrants had been "swallowed by the waves".

This latest tragedy has sparked widespread criticism of the EU, urged to step up the efforts to assist migrants.

"With people continuing to flee war and persecution, EU member states must stop burying their heads in the sand whilst hundreds keep dying at sea,"John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International said.

Dalhuisen also warned that the latest tragedy shows that the lives of hundreds of migrants would be at risk should Italy stop its Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Too little too late

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Europe bureau director, said: "This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea. Saving lives should be our top priority. Europe cannot afford to do too little too late."

The UNHCR urged the European Union to step up search and rescue operations after the first dinghy sank off Italy's Lampedusa island on Monday (9 February) and at least 29 people died of hypothermia after being rescued.

"UNHCR is both deeply saddened by this news, and concerned about the manner of the deaths – all but seven of which appear to have occurred on board the rescue vessel, with people dying of hypothermia," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.