Rome, Italy. Nearly 250 migrants are feared dead in the Mediterranean after two vessels went down in recent days amid a sharp increase in attempts to make the dangerous crossing from Libya to Europe’s southern shores.

European Union leaders agreed to give Libya $216 million to help bolster the fragile nation’s coast guard and navy so that it can stop smugglers’ boats inside territorial waters. Europe also said it would help fund refugee camps in Libya and assist migrants seeking to return to their home nations.

The deaths underscored the huge challenges for European leaders and international groups seeking to cope with rising numbers of refugees and others using Libyan smuggling networks in efforts to reach European Union nations.

6,000 migrants have set off on boats into the Mediterranean since late last week, bringing the total this year to more than 40,000, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Another group, the International Organization for Migration, placed the figure at more than 50,000.

This year, more than 1,300 people have died at sea after leaving Libya on overcrowded vessels seeking a future inside the European Union, where benefits and incomes can be 50 times what the refugees have at home.

A ship went down off the Libyan coast on Sunday, leaving at least 163 people missing and feared dead, the UN agency said, citing reports from the International Red Cross, with only 7 survivors found in the waters offshore.

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