Migrant boat mishap leaves 39 people dead on Tunisian waters


At least 39 migrants died after a boat with dozens of people onboard sank off the coast of Tunisia in what authorities called, one of the worst migrant boat accidents in recent years.

According to initial investigation, the boat carrying 53 people mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, left  Tunisia from the city of Sfax and was trying to reach Italy.

The vessel went down near the southern island of Kerkenna, a tourist spot, between June 04 and 05, and fishermen who first spotted the floating bodies on June 09 alerted authorities, according to  investigators.

The bodies of 22 women, one of whom was pregnant, have been recovered out of the 39 found. Three children, between the ages of three and four, were also among the casualties, Sfax  officials said.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, attempts to reach the Italian coast from Tunisia increased by 150% in the first four months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.

Hanan Hamdan, the Tunisia representative for the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), said she was “concerned about this new trend in departures.”

“We need to provide people with meaningful alternatives that can prevent extreme choices in the search for a better life, ’’Hamdan continued.

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said he feared more would try to make the crossing.

“Fifty-three per cent of migrants and refugees lost their jobs during the COVID-19 restrictions in Tunisia. It is not clear how many will manage to get a job back or will face tougher competition with locals,” he said. “Despair drives people to risk their lives and smugglers keep lying to them.”

Italy and Malta in April declared their seaports “unsafe” due to the pandemic and closed their borders to migrant landings. Boats carrying asylum seekers and migrants were left adrift in European search and rescue (SAR) zones and an unknown number are believed to have died at sea of starvation, dehydration or drowning.

At least three NGO rescue boats have resumed work in the Mediterranean. On Tuesday night, the Mare Jonio, led by the Italian NGO Mediterranea, sailed towards the Libyan SAR zone. After two months, the Astral, commanded by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, has returned to the sea, while the German Sea-Watch 3 is heading towards the Libya coast after a three-month pause in the port of Messina in Sicily.

“War refugees and victims of torture are being left to die in silence or captured with the coordination of European governments and then tortured in Libyan detention camps. Mare Jonio is returning to its rightful place, where aid and humanity are needed,” said Alessandra Sciurba, the president of Mediterranea.

As millions of people take to the streets to protest against police brutality in the name of George Floyd, Sciurba added: “‘I can’t breathe’ is also the last call for help among those dying in the Mediterranean, condemned to death at the hands of criminal policies.” (Source: The Guardian)