Up to 90 mostly Pakistani migrants were feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya on Friday after their boat capsized.
The vessel, owned by smugglers, was meant to have taken the migrants towards Italy but instead sank not far from the coast.
The bodies of 10 victims were reported to have washed up on the shore, eight of them Pakistani and two Libyan.
At least two people survived the shipwreck and swam to shore while a third was rescued by a passing fishing boat, officials said.
There has been a recent increase in the number of Pakistanis trying to make the crossing from Libya towards Italy.
Last year, just over 3,100 Pakistanis reached Italy by sea, making them the 13th largest nationality among migrants.
This year, however, they are already the third most numerous nationality – around 240 made the crossing in January.
Humanitarian organisations believe the Pakistanis are made up of two distinct groups.
“There are those who have been living and working in Libya for years, mostly in the construction sector, since the time of Gadaffi,” but now find conditions so dangerous that they want to leave the country, Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organisation for Migration, told The Telegraph.
“But I think there are others who tried to get into Europe via Turkey, Greece and the Balkan route, and found the borders closed, so they are looking for another way. They can fly from Istanbul to Khartoum and then pay smugglers to take them across the desert by truck.”
Olivia Headon, also from the IOM, said: “It’s quite a jump in numbers but it is unclear whether it will be a trend that will continue throughout the rest of the year.”
Trafficking networks are quick to identify new markets, routes and nationalities in a highly fluid situation.
“Smugglers sell migrants the idea of Europe as a kind of paradise, they are very good salesmen. Migrants may know the risks of the sea crossing but they think it will be worth it,” she said.
Last year 119,000 migrants and refugees managed to reach Italy, most of them after being rescued at sea by European navies and coast guards as well as vessels operated by NGOs.
The year before, 181,000 made it to Italy.
Migration has become a key issue in Italy’s election campaign, with voters due to go to the polls on March 4.
Major parties, including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Right-wing League, formerly the Northern League, have said Italy can no longer accept such high numbers and have called for hundreds of thousands of migrants already in the country to be sent home.