Three Migrants Drown Off Tunisian Coast, Dozens Missing

255 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean – Italian Coastguard
File photo of migrants on a boat on the Mediterranean sea.

A boat carrying around 70 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa has sunk in the Mediterranean, leaving three people dead and dozens missing, Tunisian officials said on Friday.

The bodies of three people who drowned in the incident were found Friday, a spokesman for the Tunisian defence ministry said, adding the boat left Zuwara on the northwestern Libyan coast on Thursday.

A fishing boat picked up 16 survivors, who were transferred on board one of three military vessels involved in the search and rescue operation, said spokesman Mohamed Zekri.

A Maltese helicopter was also mobilised, he said.

According to those rescued, between 60 to 70 people from sub-Saharan Africa were thought to be on board, Zekri added.

Interior ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag said however around 75 people were believed to have been on board the Italy-bound boat when it left Libya.

The Red Crescent said there could have been as many as 90 passengers on board the ill-fated vessel, which could indicate a much steeper death toll.

“We will probably never know the exact number of those who died,” said Mongi Slim, a Red Crescent official in the southern Tunisian town of Zarzis, where those rescued were taken.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed to close the country’s ports to migrants, although earlier Friday dozens who had been rescued at sea disembarked in Sicily.

Rome’s populist government has taken an increasingly hard line on migration, and Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant League party, last month signed a new directive banning charity vessels from rescuing migrants off Libya.

 ‘World’s deadliest sea crossing’

The UN agency for refugees UNHCR meanwhile called for stepped up search and rescue operations to avoid future tragedies in the Mediterranean, which it calls the “world’s deadliest sea crossing”.

“Across the region we need to strengthen the capacity of search and rescue operations,” said Vincent Cochetel, the agency’s special envoy for the Mediterranean.

“If we don’t act now, we’re almost certain to see more tragic events in the coming weeks and months,” he warned.

According to the UNHCR, the journey across the Mediterranean “is becoming increasingly fatal for those who risk it”.

“In the first four months of this year, one person has died (crossing the Mediterranean) for every three that have reached European shores, after departing from Libya,” it said.

That is up from last year’s toll of one person in 14, according to the UN refugee agency.

Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi, has long been a major transit route for people desperate to reach Europe.

Over the past week, and despite a surge in violence following the launch of an assault on Tripoli by strongman Khalifa Haftar, Libyan authorities have rescued hundreds of migrants stranded at sea.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 101 migrants were returned to Libya on Friday, two days after Libyan coastguard intercepted boats.

The UN and rights groups have repeatedly decried the conditions in which migrants are held in Libya, where around 6,000 migrants are at detention centres, according to the IOM.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights NGO has denounced what it said were the European Union’s “restrictive and inhumane policies” which it said led to the latest “human tragedy”.

AFP

At Least 65 Migrants Drown Off Tunisian Coast

At least 65 migrants have died after their boat capsized approximately 45 nautical miles off the coast of Tunisia early this morning, the UN refugee agency says.

The Tunisian Red Crescent on Saturday put the figure at around 60, noting that most of the migrants were from Bangladesh and the boat was heading to Italy.

Survivors told the Red Crescent that the tragedy unfolded after some 75 people who had left Zuwara on the northwestern Libyan coast late Thursday on a large boat were transferred to a smaller one that sank off Tunisia.

“The migrants were transferred into a smaller inflatable boat which was overloaded, and 10 minutes later it sank,” Mongi Slim, a Red Crescent official in the southern Tunisian town of Zarzis, told AFP.

Tunisian fishermen rescued 16 people and brought them to shore in Zarzis.

The survivors said they spent eight hours trapped in the cold sea before they were spotted by the fishermen who alerted the Tunisian coastguard, Slim said.

The bodies of three people were plucked out of the waters on Friday, the Tunisian defence ministry said.

Survivors said the boat was heading to Italy and had on board only men, 51 from Bangladesh, as well as three Egyptians, several Moroccans, Chadians and other Africans.

Fourteen Bangladeshi nationals, including a minor, were among the survivors, said the Red Crescent.

“If the Tunisian fishermen hadn’t seen them (migrants), there wouldn’t have been any survivors and we would have never known about this” boat sinking, said Slim.

Charity ships have plied the Mediterranean Sea to rescue migrants in large numbers but the number of rescue operations have dwindled as these vessels have come under fire, namely from the populist Italian government, over their action.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has imposed a “closed ports” policy, refusing to allow migrants rescued at sea to enter his country.

On Friday, however, more than 60 migrantsdisembarked in Italy after two boats which had left Libya faced difficulties at sea and needed assistance.

The UN agency for refugees UNHCR called for stepped up search and rescue operations to avoid future tragedies in the Mediterranean, which it calls the “world’s deadliest sea crossing”.

“Across the region we need to strengthen the capacity of search and rescue operations,” said Vincent Cochetel, the agency’s special envoy for the Mediterranean.

“If we don’t act now, we’re almost certain to see more tragic events in the coming weeks and months,” he warned.

According to the UNHCR, the journey across the Mediterranean “is becoming increasingly fatal for those who risk it”.

“In the first four months of this year, one person has died (crossing the Mediterranean) for every three that have reached European shores, after departing from Libya,” it said.

Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants desperate to reach Europe.

AFP

Bodies Of 11 Migrants Recovered Off Tunisian Coast

A Libyan coast guardsman stands on a boat during the rescue of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe off the coastal town of Zawiyah, 45 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, on June 27, 2017. PHOTO: Taha JAWASHI / AFP

 

The bodies of 11 migrants have been recovered and 67 others rescued after their boat began sinking off Tunisia’s southern coast, the interior ministry said on Sunday.

Those rescued from the fishing vessel off the coast of southern Sfax province included “Tunisians and foreigners”, it said citing an initial toll.

The Tunisian national guard and navy units found the ship about 30 kilometres offshore after receiving a distress call at around midnight on Saturday.

The ministry said search operations, with the help of military aircraft and divers, were ongoing.

Tunisians and migrants regularly try to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better future in Europe, but departures peaked last September.

According to NGOs, the uptick reflected frustration among young people hard hit by unemployment.

In October, a collision between a migrant boat and a Tunisian military ship left at least 44 dead, in what Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called a “national disaster”.

AFP