Fifty-four migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were rescued after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Tunisia, officials announced Thursday. The incident took place as Tunisia's government cracks down on sub-Saharan migrants.
Tunisian coast guards recovered 14 bodies and rescued 54 people after migrant vessels capsized off the coast of the Sfax region on Tuesday and Wednesday, authorities announced on Thursday (March 9).
Three migrants died and 34 were rescued after a vessel sank Tuesday, while 11 died and 20 were rescued in a separate incident on Wednesday, Faouzi Masmoudi, a spokesman in charge of investigations into the wrecks, said Thursday.
Between Wednesday and Thursday, the Tunisian coastguard reportedly prevented 14 attempts to cross the sea and rescued 435 migrants -- mostly from sub-Saharan Africa -- overnight.
Hundreds of other migrants were also rescued off the Tunisian coast during several operations carried out by the guards.
A spokesman told AFP on Thursday that the coastguard would continue to fight "gangs involved in organizing clandestine immigration operations."
The Tunisian coast, which lies about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa at its closest point, has become an increasingly popular launch pad for thousands of migrants seeking to reach Europe.
Tunisian crackdown on sub-Saharan migrants
In February, Tunisian President Kais Saied ordered security forces to take "urgent measures" against "hordes" of sub-Saharan African migrants, accusing them -- without evidence -- of representing a "criminal plot" to alter the country's demographic composition.
Saied instructed his forces to stop all illegal immigration and to expel any irregular migrants living in Tunisia.
Hundreds of migrants were made homeless overnight, pushing many to register for repatriation at their embassies.
Others have tried to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats.
The Italian government said in February that more than 32,000 migrants, including 18,000 Tunisians, reached Italy from Tunisia last year, while thousands more have departed from neighboring war-torn Libya.
With dpa and AFP