At least 700 migrants trying to reach Italy via the central Mediterranean died in sea accidents over the past seven days, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Sunday, almost doubling this year's estimated death tally.

UNHCR Rome spokeswoman Carlotta Sami told dpa that 550 people were missing from a boat that overturned on Thursday; about 100 may be inside the hold of another vessel that sank on Wednesday; and there was an unknown number of missing from a third shipwreck on Friday.

"Totting up these grim numbers, we estimate that there are at least 700 victims, with no certainty on the figures and on their identities," the spokeswoman said.

Migrants who survived other recent sea crossings also reported missing people, Sami said. For example, the mother of the 9-month girl who arrived on the island of Lampedusa on Wednesday and whose plight triggered a nationwide outpouring of compassion.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a medical charity which is running a naval rescue mission, gave even higher estimates. "Around 900 people may have died in the Central Mediterranean in the last week alone. Europe, this is unbearable," it wrote on Twitter.

Earlier in the week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that there had been 1,093 migrant deaths on the central Mediterranean in the year to date, down from 1,782 in January-May 2015.

The latest figures would even out the death tolls for 2015 and 2016.

"The [European] Commission deplores the tragic loss of life which have occurred in the Mediterranean over the past days - every life lost is one too many," a spokeswoman for the European Union's executive, Tove Ernst, told dpa.

She said the commission was drafting a paper that would acknowledge Italy's Migration Compact - a plan offering aid to African nations in return for tightening their borders - and inform discussions on migration at an EU summit on June 28-29.

The latest deadly incidents took place amid a surge of sea migration to Italy. Its coastguard coordinated the rescue of about 13,000 people since Monday - plus the recovery of 50 bodies - whereas in the previous seven days, fewer than 1,700 sea migrants arrived.

Some 629 survivors and 45 corpses arrived Sunday at the port of Reggio Calabria, at the tip of Italy's boot. The dead comprised 36 women, six men and three children of ages ranging from 6 months to 2 years, the ANSA news agency said.

An MSF vessel took another 604 migrants to Palermo. A local doctor, Giuseppe Termini, told ANSA that fifteen pregnant women were among them, including an underage rape victim. A further 382 migrants landed in Messina, another Sicilian port.

MSF doctor Paola Mazzoni told SkyTG24 news channel that Libyan militia fighters routinely raped migrant girls held in captivity, and said those rescued "are people who have been suffering for months from hunger, cold, deprivation and violence."

After days of frantic activities, Sunday seemed calmer for rescuers. The most recent report from the Italian Coastguard was an overnight Twitter message about 40 people saved from a dinghy off the island of Lampedusa "after a difficult search."

The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, told French newspaper Journal de Dimanche about smugglers' ruthless methods: "[They] put the migrants in boats and don't give them enough fuel [...] Then they call the emergency number in Italy and say, 'prepare yourselves, 500 migrants are going to arrive!'"

Italy has become the main entry point for Europe-bound migrants following the closure of the Balkan route, passing through Greece and Turkey. IOM data shows that Greece had only 272 arrivals in the May 19-26 period, compared to 5,674 for Italy.

Italy-bound flows are expected to further increase as warmer weather encourages more departures. There is no indication, however, that Syrian refugees, who previously flocked to Greece, are now targeting Italian shores.

Sami said most of those who arrived this week came from the Horn of Africa or sub-Saharan Africa, but there were also nationals of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and 26 Syrians who had been living in Libya for some time.

According to IOM data covering the first four months of 2016, the top nationalities among incoming sea migrants to Italy were: Nigeria, Gambia, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Guinea, Senegal, Mali and Sudan.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.