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Tunisia: Pressure piles on authorities to find shipwreck victims

Locals of the coastal city of Zarzis in southeastern Tunisia on October 18, 2022 march with a body during a funeral for a Tunisian migrant found at sea the previous day   -  
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FATHI NASRI/AFP or licensors -

Tunisia

Thousands of people demonstrated Tuesday in Zarzis, a city in southeastern Tunisia paralyzed by a general strike to demand an intensified search for the bodies of Tunisian migrants who disappeared at sea a month ago, according to an AFP correspondent.

The civil servants and shopkeepers of this coastal city of about 75,000 inhabitants observed a general strike at the call of a local trade union demanding an investigation into the shipwreck and the procedures for the search and burial of the remains found.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 demonstrators, including the families of 12 missing migrants, gathered on the main avenue of Zarzis, according to observers.

Some held up photos of the missing and banners denouncing a "state crime" and calling for the "truth" to be revealed.

A makeshift boat that left Zarzis with 18 Tunisian migrants on board disappeared during the night of September 20-21. Subsequently, eight bodies, including several Tunisians, were found on October 10 by fishermen.

Local authorities mistakenly buried four Tunisian migrants in a private cemetery, "The Garden of Africa," usually reserved for the bodies of sub-Saharan migrants recovered in the region, which angered the families.

After their protests, President Kais Saied on Monday ordered the Ministry of Justice to open an investigation "so that Tunisians will know the whole truth and those responsible for these tragedies will face the consequences of their negligence.

From spring to autumn, due to favorable weather, the pace of migrant departures from Tunisia and neighboring Libya to Italy accelerates, sometimes resulting in drowning.

Faced with the migratory pressure, the Tunisian authorities are struggling to intercept or rescue migrants because of a lack of resources, they say.

The Tunisian League for Human Rights denounced "the inability of the authorities to mobilize the necessary means to conduct rescue and search operations with speed.

Tunisia is going through a serious political and economic crisis and now has four million poor people, out of a population of nearly 12 million.

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