A photo from the aftermath of another shipwreck in the Mediterranean | Photo: Reuters / Giorgios Moutafis
A photo from the aftermath of another shipwreck in the Mediterranean | Photo: Reuters / Giorgios Moutafis

At least 11 migrants are thought to have died when their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia on Sunday. The migrants, believed to be from Africa, were among about 30 people on board. So far, the bodies of eight women and three children have been recovered.

The Tunisian coast guard is searching for more people after a boat, believed to have been carrying about 30 migrants, sank off the coast of Tunisia on Sunday, October 11, reported the news agency Reuters.

The bodies of eight women and three children have already been recovered by the Tunisian coast guard not far from the port of Sfax, late on Sunday night.

The migrants had been hoping to reach Italy, officials told Reuters.

The news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that at least seven people were rescued from the vessel. The spokesperson for the Libyan coast guard didn’t tell AFP from where the boat had originally departed.

Deadly coast

The accident comes just a few months after another migrant shipwreck resulted in 61 deaths in June. Since 2017, the Tunisian authorities have been cataloging such deaths, carefully taking DNA from each body recovered and burying them in numbered graves at a cemetery near Sfax.

More than 20,000 migrant have already died in the Mediterranean since 2014 according to the United Nations. More than 80% of those deaths are believed to have occurred in the deadliest zone between Italy, Malta, Libya and Tunisia. Only a third of the bodies have ever actually been recovered.

Sea route to Italy

According to the UNHCR's latest data, updated on October 6, 2020, more than 24,000 migrants had reached Italian shores this year alone. The majority - around 44% - come originally from Tunisia, and many more ships are also departing from Tunisia as the economic situation in the country is steadily worsening.

As the Libyan coast guard has started to turn more migrant boats back from Libya, an increasing number of sub-Saharan Africans are now turning to Tunisia as a preferred point of departure.

Three quarter of the migrants arriving in Italy this year are men. Unaccompanied children make up another 13% of arrivals, children 4% and women just 6%.

The majority of those who arrived by sea and sought asylum in Italy between January and June this year were rejected. Only 10% of arrivals in Italy in that period were granted refugee status as per the 1951 UN convention, while 9% were granted subsidiary protection status, and 5% were granted ‘another’ form of status.

Italy-Tunisia agreement

In August, ministers from Italy and Tunisia signed an agreement, in which Italy promised funding and training for the Tunisian coast guard to try and halt the migrant boats before they depart, or at least before they leave Tunisian territorial waters.

According to the Italian news agency ANSA, Italy promised to provide a total of €11 million in economic support “to help strengthen Tunisian border control and train Tunisian security forces in order to prevent migrants from leaving, and to intercept boats while they are still in Tunisian territorial waters.”

Now though, according to a joint statement from three organizations who work with migrants, the Italian government has made the money conditional upon Tunisia getting the numbers of departures from its coasts “under control.” In the statement, the associations said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was threatening to suspend €6.5 million in funding until that control was established.

The organizations have demanded that the Italian government make the details of the agreement known so they can assess whether the agreement could be leading to an abuse of migrants’ rights.

 

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