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At least 5 Tunisian migrants dead and 7 missing in shipwreck

At least 5 Tunisian migrants dead and 7 missing in shipwreck
Four migrants in distress at sea wave for help, 8 August 2023   -  
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Karolina Sobel/Sea-Watch/AP


Five Tunisian migrants are dead and seven other people are missing after the sinking of a makeshift boat that left the coast of Sfax in central-eastern Tunisia on Monday, AFP learned from judicial sources.

"The wooden boat" on which "35 people, mostly Tunisians" had embarked, including women and children, capsized "shortly after its departure", Faouzi Masmoudi, a porter, told AFP. word of the court of Sfax, specifying that "23 people were rescued".

"A child and two women are among those who died," he added. According to him, "the shipwreck occurred less than an hour after departure, from Sidi Mansour", a locality north of Sfax, known as a starting point for clandestine crossings.

Sfax, Tunisia's second city, has since the beginning of the year become the epicenter of attempts to illegally cross the Mediterranean from the Tunisian coasts, located, at the closest point, less than 130 km from the island. Italian from Lampedusa.

The Sfax court has opened an investigation to determine the causes of the accident. “It is possible that the boat was carrying a small number of nationals from sub-Saharan Africa and that they are among the missing,” said the spokesman, stressing that the search for possible survivors is continuing.

Another shipwreck had already taken place in the night from Friday to Saturday just 120 m from the coast, in Gabès, a port city located about 150 km south of Sfax.

A 20-year-old Tunisian died in this tragedy as well as an infant whose parents are among the 13 people rescued, all of Tunisian nationality. Five other Tunisians are still missing.

Plunged into a financial crisis causing shortages of essential products, Tunisia has also been shaken by strong political tensions since the coup by which President Kais Saied seized all the powers on July 25, 2021. About twenty opponents have been imprisoned since February.

Every year, thousands of Tunisians set sail in search of a better life in Europe. Since the beginning of 2023, they have represented the fourth nationality among migrants who landed in Italy, behind Ivorians, Guineans and Egyptians, according to Italian statistics.

Nearly 98,000 migrants have reached Italian shores since the start of the year, according to Rome, more than double the figure recorded for the same period of 2022. Two-thirds of these migrants departed from Tunisia, and the rest of neighbouring Libya.

Arrivals of Tunisians have however fallen by 25% over one year, with 7,121 migrants since the start of the year, according to the Italian Interior Ministry. The weather was very unfavourable in Tunisia in May and June, a period from which departures usually intensify to continue throughout the summer until autumn.

Before these last two tragedies, the most recent shipwreck off Tunisia was announced on August 7.

A boat that left with 57 people on board, all from sub-Saharan Africa, had sunk after leaving the vicinity of Sfax. Eleven migrants died and 44 were not found, only two people could be saved.

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