One hundred people, including eight babies, were rescued by the Tunisian navy off Zarzis on Monday. The migrants had reportedly set off from Libya.
An inflatable boat carrying 10 women, 82 men and eight babies had set off from the Libyan coast at dawn on Monday. The group was intercepted by a Tunisian navy patrol boat after their engine failed, a Tunisian defence ministry statement said.
"They were in danger, the engine on the boat had broken down," ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told the news agency AFP. Those on board were taken to a Tunisian maritime base at Sfax where they were to be handed over to units of the national guard "to take the necessary legal measures against them," the ministry said, without giving further details.
According to the authorities, all the migrants were from sub-Saharan African countries.
Tunisia is a common departure point for migrants attempting the crossing from the North African coast to Europe. Tunisian authorities regularly rescue migrants who have set off from neighboring Libya.
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said last week that a hotline would be established between Rome and Tunis to counter irregular migration, following a large number of migrant arrivals at Italy's Lampedusa island.
The Central Mediterranean remains one of deadliest migration routes in the world. As of May 20, the UN had recorded 632 deaths of migrants in the Central Mediterranean this year, and 743 deaths in the Mediterranean Sea as a whole since the beginning of 2021.
On May 18, more than 50 people were reported missing and about 30 were rescued off the coast of Tunisia after their boat sank on its way from Libya.
At least 11,000 departures from Libya
Departures of migrant boats from Libya have increased significantly, with 11,000 people leaving between January and April 2021, 73% more than in the same period last year. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the increase is due to the "deterioration" of the situation for foreigners in Libya.
The number of people leaving and attempting to leave from Tunisia is also rising. In March, Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesman for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), told InfoMigrants that this phenomenon was mainly due to the recent wave of political protests in the country as well as the impact of COVID-19.