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Tunisia: 13 bodies of sub-Saharan migrants recovered off Sfax

Tunisia: 13 bodies of sub-Saharan migrants recovered off Sfax
Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa arrested by the Tunisian National...   -  
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The Tunisian coast guard announced on Thursday that it had recovered 13 bodies of migrant victims of a shipwreck off the port city of Sfax where clashes took place last week between migrants and the local population.

"Last night, units affiliated with the maritime region of Sfax (centre-east) thwarted an attempted clandestine crossing and rescued 25 sub-Saharan migrants but 13 bodies were recovered," the national guard said in a statement.

Sfax, Tunisia's second-largest city, is the main point of departure this year for would-be emigrants to Europe, with the Italian island of Lampedusa lying less than 150 km off the Tunisian coast.

Last week, this agglomeration of one million inhabitants was the scene of clashes that claimed a Tunisian's life on July 3.

Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were then expelled from the city and taken by the Tunisian authorities, according to NGOs, to inhospitable areas on the borders with Libya to the east and Algeria to the west.

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, at least 100 to 150 migrants were still stranded Thursday evening near the Libyan border, towards Ras Jedir, in a militarized zone, without water, shelter or food.

On Wednesday, they had launched a distress call in a video transmitted to AFP, saying that they had children and pregnant women among them.

According to HRW, another group of 200 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries were left to fend for themselves near the Algerian border in Tamaghza, 600 km south of Tunis. Rescue teams are on their way to help them.

Witnesses told AFP various convoys that would have scattered dozens of migrants in areas near the border with Algeria, 1,000 km long.

The Tunisian Red Crescent sheltered 630 migrants between Sunday and Monday, some of whom spent a week in the buffer zone of Ras Jedir, on the Libyan border.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published in June, 51,215 illegal migrants arrived in Italy this year by sea, 150% more than the previous year. Almost half came from Tunisia and the other half from Libya. A thousand migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean during this period.

An increasingly openly xenophobic discourse has spread since Tunisian President Kais Saied, who assumed full powers in July 2021, condemned illegal immigration in February.

He denounced the arrival in Tunisia of illegal "hordes of migrants" from sub-Saharan Africa and a plot "to change the demographic composition" of the country.

Tunisia is going through a serious economic and financial crisis which is also pushing hundreds of Tunisians to try to reach Europe by sea.

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