Tunisia: Dozens dead after migrant boats sink off the coast


At least 29 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa died off the coast of Tunisia after their boat sank while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy on Sunday.

The Tunisian coast guard, which was on the scene for the first time, said they managed to rescue 11 people.

During the last week the coast guard said that it had stopped about 80 boats going to Italy and detained more than 3,000 migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan African countries.

In recent years, Tunisia has become a key departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe.

United Nations data shows that at least 12,000 migrants who arrived in Italy this year left Tunisia, compared to 1,300 in the same period last year.

The latest tragedy follows a similar one earlier this month which left at least 30 people missing at sea after a boat capsized in bad weather.

The charity Alarm Phone, which tracks migrant movements across the Mediterranean, accused the Italian authorities at the time of ignoring the plight of missing people during some crucial hours that could have saved lives.

Similar allegations have also been made towards the Tunisian authorities.

Speaking at a summit in Brussels on Friday, Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni warned that there could be a “wave of migration” towards Europe if the political and economic situation in Tunisia does not improve.

Anti-African discrimination

Tunisia is currently facing its worst financial crisis since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

There is also growing discrimination against migrants in Tunisia.

Last month, Tunisian President Kais Saied accused migrants from sub-Saharan Africa of being behind a nationwide crime wave and described them as a demographic threat.

The latest tragedy follows a similar one in February when at least 61 people, including children, died when their wooden sailing boat sailing from Turkey hit rocks on the southern Italian coast.

Thirty people missing as charity accuses Italy of abandoning migrant vessel in distress

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The incidents come a few months after Meloni, the leader of the “ex-fascist” party Brothers of Italy, came to power in October, partly on a promise to stop the flow of migrants reaching Italian shores.

His administration has cracked down on migration since taking office in October, mainly by restricting the activities of migrant rescue charities with tough new laws that won final parliamentary approval on Thursday.

Meloni accuses charities of encouraging migrants to make the dangerous sea journey to Italy, acting as so-called “pull factors”.

Italy is one of the main landing points for people trying to enter Europe by sea, with many looking to travel on to wealthier northern European nations. The so-called central Mediterranean route is one of the most dangerous in the world.

The United Nations Project on Missing Migrants has registered more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014.

More than 220 deaths or disappearances this year, he estimates.

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