Tunisian authorities have recovered the bodies of four people believed to be African migrants, including a pregnant woman, off the coast of Kerkennah Island in the Central Mediterranean.
The four bodies were handed over to the regional hospital in the city of Sfax, Tunisia, prosecutor Faouzi Masmoudi told The Associated Press. They were found early on Sunday and appeared to have drowned several days earlier, he said. Asked about online references to a newborn baby being among the dead, he said that only adult bodies were found.
Tunisian authorities believe the people set out from Tunisia or neighboring Libya on a boat. The authorities are investigating what happened and are seeking information about other passengers.
The tragedy comes just days after a two-year-old girl from the Ivory Coast died in a shipwreck some 10 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. The toddler had departed with her mother and about 50 people from the Tunisian city of Sfax. The boat sank shortly before reaching the island on December 18.
Also read: Two-year-old dies in shipwreck off Lampedusa
Increase in boat crossings
Thousands of people are believed to have crossed from Tunisia into Europe this year. Many are fleeing conflict or poverty elsewhere in Africa. But a growing number are Tunisians, young people or entire families whose country is struggling with a protracted and worsening economic crisis and political tension.
However, Tunisians are unlikely to be able to stay in Italy because the country is classified as a 'safe country'. Therefore, many end up in pre-removal detention centers (CPRs). Another reason for high repatriation rate of Tunisians is that the processes and agreements between Rome and Tunis work relatively efficiently, according to the Italian Association for the Juridical studies of Immigration (ASGI).
Also read: Tunisia's youth focused on reaching Europe, not Saturday's vote
Tunisia calls for a new approach on migration
At the end of November, the Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi urged European countries and humanitarian organizations to adopt a new approach towards irregular migration from Sahel countries to Europe, including the joining of forces to promote peace and security in the region.
Many die on the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. The International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project estimates some 2,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, most on the central Mediterranean route that includes Tunisia.
Also read: Several hundred migrants rescued in Mediterranean