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Tunisian Coast Guard Recovers More Bodies of Sub-saharan Migrants

Tunisia’s coast guard says it has recovered the bodies of nine migrants and rescued 29 after their boats sank off Tunisia while they were trying to reach the Italian coast. Meanwhile, EU leaders including Ursula von der Leyen are scheduled to visit Tunisia this weekend.

The Tunisian coast guard recovered the bodies of nine African migrants and rescued 29 after their boat sank off the coast of the city of Monastir when they were trying to reach the Italian coast.

That’s according to news agency Reuters citing Farid Ben Jaha, a spokesman for the Monastir courts. On Wednesday (June 8), Jaha said a search operation was underway for more potential victims, most of whom were from sub-Saharan African countries. Monastir is a major port city located between the capital Tunis and Sfax.

At the time of publication, there was no additional information available on the shipwreck, such as when exactly the group had started the crossing attempt.

Bodies on beaches

Last Wednesday (May 31), two vessels carrying sub-Saharan migrants sank off the city of Sfax, AFP reported. Two days later, Tunisia’s coast guard recovered the body of a young girl thought to have drowned in the shipwrecks. She is presumed to hail from Cameroon given that more than 200 Cameroonians were reportedly rescued last week.

The child’s mother is believed to have been one of the people reported missing after the two boats sank.

In late April, around 210 bodies of migrant washed up on Tunisia’s coastline in less than two weeks, the country’s coast guard said on April 28.

Such a large number of fatalities at sea was unprecedented over such a short period, according to Tunisia’s national guard. The deaths come amid an ongoing spike in irregular migration arrivals in Europe from Africa, Reuters reported.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,000 migrants have died trying to reach Europe via the Central Mediterranean route

EU leaders to visit Tunisia

Meanwhile, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen together with Italian Prime Minister Gioriga Meloni as well as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands will visit Tunisia this weekend to discuss matters concerning the economy and migration, news agency AFP reported Thursday (June 8).

On Sunday, the European leaders will meet with Tunisia’s President Kais Saied, whose country is going through a dire financial crisis that has aggravated political tensions.

Aside from Libya, Tunisia is the main departure point on the African continent for migrants attempting the dangerous and often deadly sea journey to Europe.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 50,000 irregular migrant arrivals have been registered in Italy. EU border agency Frontex said it had observed a particular shift in migration movements departing from Tunisia — compared with last year, there is a 1,100% growth of migrants setting off from Tunisia.

“Discussions will focus on bilateral relations between the EU and Tunisia,” Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said. “An agreement on cooperation in the areas of the economy, energy and migration will be at the heart of those discussions,” he added.

Georgia Meloni, Italian Prime Minister, and Kaïs Saïed, Tunisian President, in Tunis, June 6, 2023 | Tunisian Presidency/Reuters
Georgia Meloni, Italian Prime Minister, and Kaïs Saïed, Tunisian President, in Tunis, June 6, 2023 | Tunisian Presidency/Reuters

On Tuesday (June 6), Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni already met Saied in Tunis to renew an attempt at securing an IMF bailout for Tunisia. At the same time, Meloni is supporting its African neighbor’s efforts to tackle the growing number of migrants who try to reach Europe from Tunisian shores.

Meloni’s visit comes on the heels of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi’s meeting with his counterpart Kamel Feki and with Tunisian President Kais Saied in mid-May in Tunis to discuss migration flows from Tunisia.

Anti-migrant crackdown

Last October, the debt-riddled North African country reached an agreement in principle for a nearly $2 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but discussions have since stalled.

The IMF has called for legislation to restructure more than 100 state-owned firms, which hold monopolies over many parts of the economy and in many cases are heavily indebted.

But Saied on Tuesday again rejected what he calls the “dictat” of the IMF before a loan is granted, his office said, even as the country struggles under crippling inflation and debt estimated at around 80% of its gross domestic product.

Tunisia’s coastline is less than 150 kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa, and has long been a stepping stone for migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries, seeking a better life in Europe.

The crossing attempts to Europe from Tunisia increased after Saied made a controversial speech on February 21 claiming that irregular immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia. The subsequent anti-migrant crackdown and rise in racist attacks in Tunisia pushed some sub-Saharan migrants to fly back to their home countries.

Source : InfoMigrants