More than 700 migrants are feared to have drowned 'like rats in cages' on a smuggler boat because they were locked in the hold when it capsized off the Libyan and sank in the Mediterranean sea.
The African migrants, who are thought to have included women and children, were crammed into a 66ft fishing boat when the tragedy happened near the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The disaster struck in the early hours when refugees saw a ship coming to their rescue and rushed to one side of the boat, said the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Survivor accounts about the number of people on board varied from 700 to as many as 950, the Associated Press reported.
One survivor has told Italian authorities that there were as many as 950 people on board and that some of them had been locked below deck by the smugglers.
The Bangladeshi migrant's description provides new details about what may have happened aboard the ship, which sent out a distress call in the dark of night Saturday after a couple of days at sea.
As rescuers approached, authorities say migrants on the boat moved to one side, hoping to be saved, he told the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR.
Their movement caused the large, multilevel boat to capsize about 110 kilometers (almost 70 miles) north of Libya, sending the desperate crowd plunging into the sea, their chance of survival slim.
Britain faced pressure to end its 'immoral' opposition to rescue operations in the Mediterranean as only 28 passengers were rescued after theirovercrowded fishing boat tipped over at night on its way from Libya to Italy.
The deaths prompted fresh calls for Europe to reinstate full-scale search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
Politicians and charities have attacked the British government and other EU states for supporting Italy's controversial decision to stop search and rescue operations last year.
An estimated 1,500 migrants have drowned trying to reach Europe this year—a roughly 15-fold increase from the first four months of 2014, when 96 people died, according to the International Organization for Migration.
In addition to the latest disaster, which had only 28 survivors, an estimated 400 people died in a similar incident last week. Some 10,000 migrants were rescued just between April 10 to 16 by Italian naval forces and commercial ships, according to the IOM.