The drowning death of hundreds of people trying to emigrate to Europe through Libya in late March is a sign of the desperation of the poor and persecuted, and of the failure of government efforts to stop illegal immigration, several humanitarian agencies have said. "These people have no alternative but to entrust themselves to human smugglers who often treat them as meat," said Berardino Guarino, project director for Fondazione Migrantes, an Italian Catholic organization that assists migrants. At least 200, and perhaps as many as 300, immigrants were listed as missing and presumed dead after three boats sank off the coast of Libya in rough waters March 27-29. An Italian merchant ship rescued another 300 people and recovered 21 dead bodies from the water the night of March 28-29 after the fishing boat they were on sent out a distress call. Authorities said those trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy from Libya included people from Bangladesh, Egypt and other parts of Africa. Refugees and the desperate poor from Asia and Africa cross the Libyan desert to the coast where they pay smugglers for a place on crowded, rickety fishing boats headed for Europe.