At least 11 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have died and 44 others are missing in a shipwreck off the coast of Tunisia, according to judicial sources. Fouzi Masmoudi, a court spokesman in Tunisia’s second city of Sfax, confirmed that seven new bodies were recovered on Sunday evening. Two of the 57 people on the boat had been rescued, all from sub-Saharan African countries. Authorities are searching for the missing migrants.
Tunisia has become a major gateway for irregular migrants and asylum seekers, mainly from other parts of the continent. The sinking near Tunisia’s island of Kerkena in the Mediterranean Sea, near the coast city of Sfax, has led to the recovery of 901 bodies following maritime accidents in the Mediterranean Sea this year until July 20, with 34,290 migrants rescued or intercepted.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR reports that nearly 90,000 migrants have arrived in Italy this year, most of them from Tunisia or neighbouring Libya. The central Mediterranean migrant route from North Africa to Europe is the world’s deadliest route with more than 20,000 deaths since 2014.
In March and April, crossing efforts multiplied in Tunisia after President Kais Saied’s inflammatory speech, which alleged that “overcrowding” of sub-Saharan migrants was causing crime and posing a demographic threat to the mainly Arab country.
Since early July, hundreds of migrants have been driven out of Sfax following the death of a Tunisian man in a brawl with migrants. Rights groups and international organizations have said that Tunisian police moved migrants to desert or dangerous areas near the Libyan and Algerian borders. Humanitarian sources put the number at more than 2,000, with at least 25 deaths of migrants abandoned in the Tunisian-Libyan border area since last month. The distance between Sfax and the Italian island of Lampedusa is only 130 kilometres.