14 migrants drown in Mediterranean off Tunisia coast

Published March 10, 2023
A piece of the boat and a piece of clothing from the deadly migrant shipwreck are seen in Steccato di Cutro near Crotone, Italy, February 28, 2023. — Reuters
A piece of the boat and a piece of clothing from the deadly migrant shipwreck are seen in Steccato di Cutro near Crotone, Italy, February 28, 2023. — Reuters
Sub-Saharan migrants arrive at Tunis-Carthage International airport on March 7, 2023 as they prepare to leave Tunis on a repatriation flight after the president launched a tirade against migrants. — AFP
Sub-Saharan migrants arrive at Tunis-Carthage International airport on March 7, 2023 as they prepare to leave Tunis on a repatriation flight after the president launched a tirade against migrants. — AFP

TUNIS: Fourteen people from sub-Saharan Africa drowned in the Mediterranean, authorities said on Thursday in Tunisia, where black migrants have faced a wave of violence since an inflammatory speech by President Kais Saied.

The drama occurred off the coast of Tunisia’s Sfax region, where a spokesman for the court in charge of the investigation said the dead were from two sunken migrant boats.

Three migrants died and 34 were rescued in one sinking on Tuesday, followed Wednesday by 11 deaths in a separate incident with 20 rescued, the spokesman Faouzi Masmoudi said.

The coastguard, in an earlier statement on Facebook, said its personnel had rescued 54 people “of various sub-Saharan African nationalities”, and recovered 14 bodies but mentioned only one boat.

The agency said it had prevented a total of 14 attempts to cross the sea and rescued 435 migrants overnight Wednesday-Thursday, almost all from African countries south of the Sahara.

Many black migrants in Tunisia have been made homeless amid a wave of racist violence since President Kais Saied last month accused them of causing a crime wave and representing a “criminal plot” to change the country’s demographic composition.

The North African country hosts around 21,000 undocumented migrants from other parts of Africa, less than 0.2 per cent of the population.

Hundreds, including children and pregnant women, were made homeless in the winter cold and many registered with their embassies for repatriation, mostly to West African countries.

Others have sought to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats from Tunisia, whose coast lies about 130 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa at its closest point.

The country has long been a springboard for people fleeing war and poverty elsewhere on the continent to seek better lives in Europe, along with thousands of Tunisians themselves.

Rome 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 neighbouring Libya.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2023

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