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More than 900 migrants drown off Tunisia's coast in 2023

July 27, 2023

The Tunisian coast guard recovered 901 bodies of drowned migrants off its coast from the start of the year. The country has become a major gateway for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers headed to Europe.

Sub-Saharan migrants trying to cross to Italy are intercepted and blocked by the Tunisian National Guard
Tunisia replaced Libya as the region's main departure point for people fleeing poverty Image: Hasan Mrad/ZUMA/picture alliance

More than 900 migrants have drowned off Tunisia's coast so far this year, the country's Interior minister, Kamel Feki, said on Wednesday. 

The North African country is experiencing an influx of migrants who are attempting to escape poverty by making their way to Europe.

Feki told parliament that from January 1 to July 20 this year, 901 bodies had been recovered from maritime incidents in the Mediterranean Sea. 

According to the National Guard spokesperson Houcem Eddine Jebabli, more than 34,000 people had been rescued in several operations.  

It is said that most of the boats carrying migrants depart from the southern city of Sfax with the goal of setting off for Europe.  

The Italian government earlier said that more than 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to arrive on its shore this year.  

Most of them are from Tunisia and Libya, it said. 

UN warns about 'unfolding tragedy' of migrants 

The United Nations expressed deep concern about the migrants who are stranded in Tunisia after being relocated to isolated areas of the country.

Migrants hides and leaving the City of Sfax
The NGO Human Rights Watch said up to 1,200 Africans were "expelled or forcibly transferred" to the border regionsImage: Hasan Mrad/DeFodi Images/picture alliance

Many were displaced from Sfax following recent unrest, while others were relocated from various urban centers, the UN said.

"Among those stranded are women (including some who are pregnant) and children," the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said in a joint statement. 

"They are stuck in the desert, facing extreme heat, and without access to shelter, food or water. There is an urgent need to provide critical, life-saving humanitarian assistance while urgent, humane solutions are found.

Saving the lives of those who are stranded must be the priority, the UN agencies urged.  

"The unfolding tragedy needs to end,” they said.  

Refugees and migrants: In search of a new home

What is happening in Tunisia? 

Racial tensions and violence have flared in the country of 12 million people, as it is becoming a growing hub for migrant routes.  

The African nation is struggling with a deep economic crisis, where high inflation and unemployment have been driving Tunisians to flee the country

The migrants and asylum seekers attempt to take perilous sea voyages in often rickety boats through the Mediterranean in the hopes of a better life.  

According to IOM, the central Mediterranean has become the world's deadliest migratory route, claiming more than 20,000 lives since 2014. 

ara/lo (AFP, Reuters)