Many of these boats are former Tunisian fishing vessels, used to transport migrants and now piled up on Lampedusa | Photo:  Mehdi Chebil / InfoMigrants
Many of these boats are former Tunisian fishing vessels, used to transport migrants and now piled up on Lampedusa | Photo: Mehdi Chebil / InfoMigrants

Over the weekend, Tunisian authorities say they picked up 125 migrants bound for Europe. The majority of the group were sub-Saharan Africans.

Tunisian authorities reported they picked up 125 migrants who were attempting to reach Europe on at least six different small boats during the night from October 30 to 31. The Tunisian interior minister said in a statement that the operations were carried out by "units from the National Guard at Monastir, Sfax, Sousse e Nabeul."

According to the ministry, 112 out of 125 of the migrants came originally from sub-Saharan Africa. During one of the operations on Sunday morning, reported the Tunisien news site Webdo, three people were arrested as they were loading a small boat.

The Tunisian press agency TAP also cited a security source which says that the authorities were able to seize a rubber boat, two motors, five life jackets and some marine fuel during the operations.

At least 1,300 deaths or disappearances

This year in particular, greater numbers have attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia. According to statistics from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) the Tunisian coast guard intercepted around 19,500 migrants in the first nine months of 2021.

The number appears even more important when compared to the figures for interception between 2011 when the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" began in Tunisia and the end of 2020. In that period the Tunisian authorities say they intercepted a total of 42,000 migrants.

One of the reasons for the increase in the number of interceptions over the last year is the establishment in June of direct lines of communication between Rome and Tunis to help coordinate efforts to fight irregular immigration.

Rome-Tunis agreement

The two countries now regularly exchange information reported the FTDES. The increased communication was set in motion after Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese visited her counterparts in Tunis on May 20.

After talks, Tunisia agreed to accept the return of those migrants not qualifying for asylum, in return for the potential for some more legal migration for Tunisians towards Italy.

According to the latest figures from UNHCR, almost 52,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the beginning of 2021. The majority of them arrive in Sicily or its islands, like Lampedusa. Also since the beginning of the year, 1,300 migrants have either disappeared or drowned while crossing the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe.

On October 16, four people died and 19 others were reported disappeared after a boat carrying around 30 migrants, all of them Tunisian, capsized near the Tunisian coast, not far from Mahdia. One of those onboard managed to swim to shore and raised the alarm.

On Sunday, according to Tunisian media and reported by Agence France Presse (AFP), five bodies turned up in this area, including the body of one child.

With AFP, InfoMigrants French


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