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Migrant boats sink off Tunisia; more than 20 missing, 4 dead

April 9, 2023

The migrants were trying to cross over to Italy from Tunisia when their boats sank. The Coast Guard said that it had rescued 53 people.

Archive image to illustrate the story of rescue workers recovering people from waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Not depicting the April 8, 2023 incidents.
As the winter weather eases, the frequency of attempted crosses tends to increaseImage: Leon Salner/Resqship/picture alliance

At least 23 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were missing on Saturday, after their two boats sank off the coast of Tunisia. They were trying to cross the Mediterranean sea to Italy, said a judicial official.

Fifty-three others were rescued by the coast guard off the city of Sfax, two of whom were in critical condition, said court judge Faouzi Masmoudi. He added that four bodies had been recovered.

"There was a new shipwreck this morning — four bodies were recovered from the beach at Sfax and three other people are missing. Another 36 were saved," Masmoudi said.

He said another vessel with 37 people aboard went down after setting off from Tunisia's coast before it "sank on Friday afternoon." Masmoudi said both accidents were being investigated.

The number of migrants from African countries crossing the Mediterranean has been on the rise in recent weeks, as the worst of the winter weather recedes and the crossing becomes more viable, with several drowning accidents near Tunisia's coast.

Rise in migrants from Africa

Tunisia is frequently used as the main departure point for people escaping poverty and conflict in hope of a better life in Europe. Its shores are only about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Migrants from West Africa, Sudan and other parts often use it as a springboard during dangerous attempts to cross over.

Saturday's sinking was at least the seventh since the beginning of March, according to a tally by AFP news agency. 

The National Guard said more than 14,000 migrants were intercepted or rescued in this year itself, five times higher than the figures recorded last year.

"Coast guard patrols prevent 501 clandestine attempts to cross the maritime border and rescued 14,406  [migrants] including 13,138 from sub-Saharan African countries," between January 1 and March 31, the coastguard said in a statement.

That is up from 2,532 intercepted in the same period last year, including 1,657 from sub-Saharan Africa, National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli told AFP.

"The number is well up, because many more people are trying to leave," he said.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has ordered officials to take "urgent measures" to tackle irregular migration, claiming without evidence that "a criminal plot" was under way to change Tunisia's demographic makeup.

ItalianPrime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Friday that Europe risked seeing a huge wave of migrants arriving on its shores from North Africa unless financial stability in Tunisia was safeguarded. She has urged for greater support for the country.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar said the country needed funding and equipment to better protect its borders. It has received some equipment from Italy in the past, but Ammar said it was outdated and insufficient.

Tunisia: Anti-migrant violence

tg/msh (AFP, Reuters)