Pope Francis. File picture: Tony Gentile

Rome - Pope Francis warned “merchants of death” on Wednesday that they “will have to answer to God”, amid an increase in the number of boat refugees placing their lives in the hands of traffickers.

“Do you think that the corrupt, those who traffic people and weapons, are really happy?” he asked the crowds gathered in St Peter's Square for his weekly general audience.

“They are not, because they know that in the afterlife they will have to answer to God. They will not be able to bring with them money, power or pride,” he said.

The pontiff was speaking a day after the latest tragedies to hit boat refugees, when three migrants drowned and six more went missing in the Mediterranean during crossings from North Africa to Italy.

On Tuesday, Italian police said they had arrested two Senegalese boat traffickers who belong to a criminal organisation operating out of Sudan and Libya.

Francis also called on the international community to act against child labour, whereby “tens of millions of children are forced to work in degrading conditions, exposed to forms of slavery and exploitation, as well as sexual abuse and discrimination”. - AFP