The IOM has confirmed that at least 17 migrants are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean on Wednesday evening. Their ship, which is thought to have departed from Libya, got into difficulty off the Tunisian coast. Two women were rescued.
The latest tragedy to occur in the Mediterranean was confirmed on Thursday (May 13) by a spokesperson for the UN Migration Agency IOM, Safa Mseheli. She said on Twitter that the boat had reportedly left Zwara, in eastern Libya, two days earlier.
At least 17 migrants are thought to have lost their lives, while two women were rescued by a Tunisian naval mission, said a spokesperson for the Tunisian defense ministry to the news agency Associated Press (AP).
The spokesperson, Mohamed Zekri, told AP that the boat the migrants had been traveling on was thought to have been inflatable. The migrants reportedly got into difficulty after the boat's engine broke down at sea and it began drifting.
Pulled from the water near Zarzis
Tunisian Red Crescent officials told the news agency Reuters that the two survivors had been pulled from the water near Zarzis in southern Tunisia. The town is about 70 kilometers from the Libyan border. The news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that the women were rescued close to an oil platform and that they were taken to a hospital in Tunisia. They are reported to be either from Nigeria or Niger.
According to Reuters, the boat set off from Libya on Sunday evening with 19 migrants on board. The rest of those on board are thought to have died.
War-torn Libya has long been a transit country for migrants hoping to make it from Africa to Europe. Thousands risk their lives each year, attempting to cross on boats unfit for the long sea journey towards southern Europe.
More and more migrants are also leaving Tunisia now in the hope of making it to Italy or Malta. Tunisians account for the majority of the more than 13,000 who have made it across the sea to Italy so far this year. However, there are also increasing numbers of sub-Saharan African migrants who leave Tunisia in hope of a better life abroad.
In April, at least 130 people died in the deadliest boatwreck so far this year, during an attempt to cross from Libya. That some month, at least 40 migrants lost their lives not far from the town of Sfax, another popular departure point for migrants hoping to make it to Europe. At least four fatal sinkings have occurred in this part of the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, reports AP.
According to the IOM funded Missing Migrants project, which tracks deaths along migratory routes around the world, at least 667 people have died so far this year in the Mediterranean whilst hoping to make it to Europe. More than 550 of those died on the central Mediterranean route between North Africa and Italy and Malta.
During the same period last year, only 279 deaths were counted on all Mediterranean migrant routes, and even in 2018 and 2019 the figures for the same period were lower than this year.