(CNN) -- The U.N. Human Rights Council has called for an investigation into allegations that sinking boats carrying refugees fleeing the war in Libya were left to drown despite the ability of ships in the area to rescue them.
The council cited several reports of incidents in recent months of overloaded or mechanically unsound boats sinking in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said last month that nearly 600 people may have drowned when a boat broke up off the coast of Libya.
In a resolution adopted Friday, the Geneva-based human rights council expressed its sadness over the deaths at sea. The victims were mostly Africans. The council said it had accounts from survivors and family members who said that 1,200 people remain unaccounted for.
The council urged the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and other bodies with related mandates to look into the plight of those fleeing by sea and denied assistance or rescue when approaching the countries of destination.
After making a harrowing journey, the refugees are then subjected to "life-threatening exclusion, detention, rejection and xenophobia," the council said.
It said the burden of problem fell disproportionately on Libya's neighbouring North African countries.
Thousands of people, including many foreign workers who came to Libya for jobs, have fled the onflict that erupted in February in the North African nation.