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Tunisia: People smuggling on the rise despite obvious dangers

Funeral workers carry the body of a migrant at the beach of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on May 20, 2021.   -  
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African migrants

People smugglers operating between Tunisia and the Italian island of Lampedusa have explained how they evade the authorities and bring migrants to Europe's shores.

Ali Karkenni, one of the smugglers, said his routes are "tough for the coastguard to navigate" as they are too shallow for their motors.

"Now the coast guard is improving and they are using helicopters but they can't do anything to us," he told British broadcaster Sky News.

Over 1,000 people have died attempting to make this crossing in 2021.

Footage from Sky showed migrants who made the crossing getting picked up by the Italian authorities before being transported to an overcrowded detention centre.

Sangare, an Ivoirian migrant there, described how difficult the journey was.

"For two days we had no food or water," she said. "The motor broken down and we had to ask for help from some fishermen who called for assistance," she said.

Yet two people smugglers admitted to taking enormous risks with the lives of their passengers.

Karkenni described one of his "hardest times," when he got caught 18 miles (29 kilometers) off the coast with 21 migrants.

"I poured fuel on their boat and my boat and I took a lighter and threatened them, so they were worried about what I could do, so they let me go," he said.

Another people smuggler, whose name wasn't given, seemed unconcerned about the consequences of the perilous journey.

"You just need to take as many people as you can and not care if they die," he said.

Chamseddine Marzoug, who buries migrants who don't survive the journey across to Europe, explained how he occasionally sees women and children.

"I remember a time when we found two washed-up bodies: a woman and a baby. She was hugging him so we buried them next to each other. We couldn't separate them," he said.

"It was sad to see a mother attached by a rope to her baby, and another baby tied to a piece of wood. It was sad to see them all dead."

Both Lampedusa and the coast off Tunisia are littered with wrecked boats used by migrants.

The boats continue to arrive despite the efforts of authorities to pursue the smugglers.