ROME, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- The United Nations on Thursday said it spoke to survivors who said at least 239 migrants likely died after two ships capsized off the coast of Libya.
Carlotta Sami, a Rome-based spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' Southern Europe division, said a rescue operation was launched in the Mediterranean Sea but survivors said at least 239 people are missing and are likely dead.
At least six children were aboard the boats.
In late October, the United Nations said death toll of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far in 2016 has surpassed last year's total with about two months left in the year.
"This brings the number of those that died looking for safety in EU to 4,220," Sami said of the year's totals.
The United Nations estimates 3,771 migrants died in 2015. A migrant crisis escalated throughout 2015 and continued in 2016 as people fled conflict and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq. Migrants have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea and also by land through Turkey and Greece.
Last year, about 1,015,000 people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe. This year, about 330,000 have made the crossing so far.
The United Nations said there are several explanations for the increase in migrant deaths this year when there were fewer people attempting to cross.
They include more migrants attempting to travel from North Africa to Italy, which is a more dangerous route, and that smugglers are attempting to take thousands of people at a time in perilous conditions.