29 bodies found after three vessels sink off Tunisia

Published March 27, 2023
A person disembarks the Geo Barents rescue ship, operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), in Bari on Italy March 26, 2023. — Reuters
A person disembarks the Geo Barents rescue ship, operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), in Bari on Italy March 26, 2023. — Reuters

TUNIS: Tunisia’s coastguard said on Sunday the bodies of 29 migrants from sub-Saharan Afri­can countries had been recovered after three vessels capsized, the latest in a string of such tragedies.

A series of shipwrecks has left dozens of migrants dead and others missing in the country that serves as a key conduit for migrants seeking to reach nearby European shores.

It comes after President Kais Saied made an incendiary speech last month, accusing sub-Saharan Africans of representing a demographic threat and causing a crime wave in Tunisia.

The coastguard said in a statement on Sunday that it had “rescued 11 illegal migrants of various African nationalities after their boats sank” off the central-eastern coast, citing three separate sinkings. In one, a Tunisian fishing trawler recovered 19 bodies 58 kilometres off the coast after their boat capsized.

A coastguard patrol off the coastal city of Mahdiya also recovered eight bodies and “rescued” 11 other migrants after their boat sank as it headed towards Italy. Fishing trawlers in Sfax meanwhile recovered two other bodies.

Black migrants in the country have faced a spike in violence since Saied’s speech and hundreds have been living in the streets for weeks in increasingly desperate conditions.

People fleeing poverty and violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, West Africa and other parts of the continent have for years used Tunisia as a springboard for often perilous attempts to reach safety and better lives in Europe.

’The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 150 kilometres off the Tunisian coast, part of the Central Mediterranean route described by the United Nations as the deadliest in the world.

Rome has pressured Tunisian authorities to rein in the flow of people, and has helped beef up the coastguard, which rights groups accuse of violence.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2023

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