Three Syrian children drowned along with three adults when a wooden boat trying to carry war refugees to Europe capsized off the coast of Libya, a humanitarian rescue group said on Friday.
The bodies of two girls, aged eight months and five years, were pulled out of the sea about 22 nautical miles from Libya on Thursday after the small vessel packed with 27 Syrians flipped over and sank, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) humanitarian group said.
The bodies of two women and one man were also recovered, but a five-year-old boy who was on the boat when it sank was not found, MOAS reported. MOAS operates two rescue boats in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Libya.
A fishing boat and a ship operated by humanitarian group Proactiva Open Arms collected the 21 survivors, who are now being taken to aboard the Responder, a MOAS boat.
The media spotlight refocused on the plight of civilians in Syria's conflict this week following a wrenching video of a dust-covered, disoriented five-year-old boy, Omran Daqneesh, pulled from the rubble after a bombing raid in Aleppo.
More than 500 migrants were rescued from overcrowded and unsafe boats in seas between Libya and Italy on Thursday. They included 146 people plucked from a semi-deflated rubber vessel, Italy's coastguard said.
Last year, Syrian refugees bound for Europe tended to take a short boat ride to Greek islands from Turkey. Those routes have been largely shut down this year, forcing some to make the longer and more dangerous voyage from North Africa toward Italy.
Thousands of children have been killed in the Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year, and more than 3,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean so far this year, the International Organization for Migration estimates.
About a quarter of all boat migrants in 2016 - some 100,000 have arrived in Italy - are children, the U.N. refugee agency says.