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Tunisia recovers bodies of 29 migrants after boats capsize

March 27, 2023 at 9:36 am

Irregular migrants are seen as operation carried out by the Tunisian National Guard against African irregular migrants who want to reach Europe illegally via the Mediterranean Sea, off the city of Sfax in the south of Tunisia on October 28, 2022. [Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency]

At least 29 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa died after their boats sank off the Tunisian coast as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the national guard announced.

Coast guards recovered the bodies of eight migrants off the city of Mahdia and rescued 11 others while fishermen recovered the bodies of 19 migrants 58 kilometres off Tunisia’s coast and another two dead bodies off the coast of the city of Sfax.

Tunisia has taken over from Libya as a main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

According to UN data, at least 12,000 migrants who have reached Italy this year set sail from Tunisia, compared with 1,300 in the same period of 2022.

The coastline of Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East for a shot at a better life in Europe.

Far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni warned earlier this month that Tunisia’s “major financial problems” could spark an “unprecedented wave of migration” towards Europe and called on the IMF and the West to help Tunisia quickly to avoid its collapse.

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Meloni said the Italian and French foreign ministers will head to Tunisia to discuss the issue.

Meloni echoed comments made earlier in the week by European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who warned of economic collapse in Tunisia that could lead to new waves of migrants arriving in Europe.

Tunisia is going through a deepening social and economic crisis, with rising inflation and unemployment, while Tunisians themselves make up a large percentage of migrants trying to make their way to Europe.

The heavily indebted country is negotiating with the IMF to obtain a $2 billion loan, but talks have been stalled for months.