The bodies of eight people were found off the coast of the southern Tunisian town of Zarzis on Monday. An aid official said they were probably migrants who had been traveling in a boat that left on September 21.
Fishermen off Zarzis made the awful discovery early on Monday, October 10. The eight bodies are thought to be those of Tunisian migrants who had set off on a boat that sank two weeks ago.
But Mongi Slim, the head of the Red Crescent in Medenine, called for caution. "The bodies have spent more than two weeks in the water, so their identification is very difficult," he told InfoMigrants (French). "There is stil no certainty as to their nationality. We must not forget that throughout the year, many sub-Saharans also disappear at sea."
The latest discovery of bodies comes after the remains of three people were found last week on Tunisia’s southern coast. One of them, that of a woman stranded near the island of Djerba, has already been identified by her family.
'Lack of resources'
According to officials, teams of forensic scientists are currently in Zarzis to take DNA samples from the bodies of the deceased and compare them with those of their relatives, in order to identify them.
A member of the emergency platform Alarm Phone, 'Hela', contacted by InfoMigrants (French) on Friday October 7, said that a total of 17 people – including two women and a baby – boarded a boat at 8 am on September 21.
The day after their departure, the migrants' families were worried about not having received any news from their loved ones. On the day the missing vessel was reported to Alarm Phone, "the weather conditions were very bad," Hela recalls.
In the days that followed, it was difficult for Alarm Phone to know what had happened, especially as no one had the GPS coordinates of the dinghy. "We had contacted the coast guard, but they gave us no information," Hela said. She recalled a similar situation last November, in which the authorities did not have a GPS position and so did not go out to sea to pick up a boat in distress. "Many people died. Often, it is the fishermen who are doing the job that the state should be doing."
Family members of the migrants missing since September 21 have been protesting since last week in Zarzis, saying that the state is not doing enough to investigate their fate.
"It’s quite unprecedented for families to exert such pressure," Mongi Slim told InfoMigrants (French). "But we have to realize that there is a real lack of resources. The police do not even have a drone to fly over the sea."
A "sweeping operation" in Tunisian waters also began on October 7, initiated "by a certain number of citizens in Zarzis and Djerba, in search of the missing," the news site Tunisie Numérique reports. The initiative aims to "support the efforts of authorities, coast guards and the army."
The number of young Tunisians setting out on risky sea journeys to Europe has increased substantially as a result of worsening economic and political conditions in the country of around 12 million.
As of October 10, of 73,941 people who have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, 15,182 were Tunisian, the second nationality of migrant arrivals after Egyptians.
Based on reporting by InfoMigrants French and Reuters