Images of dead children and women washed up on a beach in Libya have been shared by a Spanish charity.
The NGO Proactiva Open Arms received some of the photos from inside Libya and said they are of people who had tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, a dangerous route for migrants.
They show the partially clothed bodies of small children and a woman, bloated and half buried in the sand.
At least 743 migrants are known to have died in the Mediterranean this year.
According to the data published by UN’s International Organization for Migration, there have been 630 recorded deaths in the central Mediterranean alone in 2021, compared with 289 deaths for the whole sea in 2020.
“We are in shock,” Open Arms head of communications Laura Lanuza told the BBC. “When people try to flee from Libya they shouldn’t be taken back or left adrift in the Mediterranean. There should be a search and rescue operation… to protect lives at sea.”
“The Mediterranean is the biggest graveyard in the world,” she said. “It shouldn’t be like this.”
Reacting to the photos, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said: “Images of bodies of babies and toddlers washed up on a beach in Libya are unacceptable.”
One of the images posted online shows a small child in a polka dot one-piece sleepsuit. Sand has partially obscured the body.
Another photo is of a woman in green trousers spread eagle on the sand, her top pulled up over her head.
Oscar Camps is the founder of Proactiva Open Arms. He tweeted photos of the bodies on Monday, of “young children and women who had only dreams and ambitions to live”, saying they had been left there for three days.
Freelance journalist Nancy Porsia – who has also posted images of the bodies online – tweeted however that a contact of hers found the bodies on Saturday and informed the authorities, who buried them the same day in Abu Qamash cemetery.
Europe is grappling with a fresh influx of people heading to the continent across the Mediterranean. Some 13,000 people have already arrived in Italy this year, with warmer weather in the area raising fears of even more people trying to make the crossing.
And in the western Mediterranean last week, some 8,000 people including children swam or waded around a border fence to get to the Spanish territory of Ceuta from Morocco. Authorities returned several thousand soon after.
In 2015, the image of drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi sparked global outrage. The Syrian child was photographed lying face down on the sand in Turkey after his family tried to reach Europe.