Archive image of the arrival in Lampedusa of a boat with Tunisians on board, on April 12, 2020 | Photo: ANSA / ETTORE FERRARI
Archive image of the arrival in Lampedusa of a boat with Tunisians on board, on April 12, 2020 | Photo: ANSA / ETTORE FERRARI

At least 23 migrants have been found dead in a shipwreck off the coast of Tunisia. Seventy of their fellow passengers were rescued by the Tunisian navy, according to an NGO.

At least 23 African migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia on Tuesday, June 1, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. 70 migrants were rescued by the Tunisian navy in the incident, the Tunisian Red Crescent humanitarian organisation reported.

The boat was carrying more than 90 migrants and had set off from Libya towards Europe, Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told the Reuters news agency. 

The Tunisian navy also rescued 39 other migrants who were on another boat that sank off the coast of the city of Sfax 270 kilometers south of Tunis.

Sea crossings increasing

More than 120 migrants have died in recent weeks in similar incidents off the Tunisian coast, with the number of crossings increasing as weather improves.

On May 28, a group of 158 people, including children, from Tunisia and sub-Saharan African countries was intercepted overnight, according to a statement from the Tunisian defence ministry. The Tunisian navy said it also rescued 104 migrants from Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt and Ghana on the same day. The group, who had departed from the Libyan port of Zouara, were intercepted off the coast of Sfax.

More departures from Tunisia

Tunisia is a common departure point for migrants attempting to cross the Meditteranean from North Africa to Europe. Tunisian authorities regularly intercept migrants who have set off from neighboring Libya.

The number of people leaving and attempting to leave from within Tunisia is also rising, mainly due to the recent wave of political protests and the devastating impact of COVID-19. Confidence in the government is low, unemployment high and the health system is overwhelmed. In 2020 a higher number of Tunisians attempted crossing the Central Mediterranean than at any time since 2011.

The European Commission is currently in talks with EU member states, as well as Libya and Tunisia, to find ways to address the large number of migrants stuck in Italy and to attempt to strike a deal to reduce migrant sea-crossings. The deal would also include plans for the voluntary redistribution migrants from Italy to other member states.

The death toll in the Mediterranean continues to mount. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, less than 23,500 people have made it across the sea to Europe this year, most of them setting off from Tunisia or Algeria and landing in Italy or Spain.

 

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