Wooden Boat Sinks Off the Coast of Tunisia, 19 Asylum Seekers Killed. PHOTO/Reuters
TUNIS – At least 19 refugees and migrant from sub-Saharan Africa were reported drowning off the coast Tunisia while trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Italy. This was disclosed by a human rights group.
Reports of the deaths came early on Sunday, when the Italian news agency ANSA said more than 2,000 asylum seekers had arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa within 24 hours. ANSA described the flow of refugees as a “record”.
Romdhane Ben Amor, an official at the Forum on Social and Economic Rights (FTDES), told Reuters news agency that the deaths occurred when a boat carrying refugees and migrants sank off the coast of Tunisia’s Mahdia after a journey that started from the coast of Sfax.
“The Tunisian Coast Guard managed to rescue five people from the boat,” Amor said. Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
In the last four days, at least five boats carrying refugees and migrants have sunk off the coast of the southern city of Sfax, leaving 67 people missing and nine people dead.
Earlier, the Coast Guard said it had stopped some 80 boats bound for Italy in the last four days and detained more than 3,000 people, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries.
The beach near Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in hopes of a better life in Europe.
The latest disaster comes amid a campaign of arrests by Tunisian authorities of undocumented sub-Saharan Africans. According to UN data, at least 12,000 people who reached Italy this year sailed from Tunisia, compared with 1,300 in the same period in 2022.
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