Tunisia announces the drowning of over 900 migrants off its shores this year

As Tunisia replaces Libya to become the main departure point for migrants into Europe, this week Tunisia’s Interior Minister, Kamel Feki, announced that thus far this year the bodies of more than 900 drowned migrants have been recovered off Tunisia’s coasts.

Record numbers of boats carrying undocumented migrants have been departing from the Tunisian southern coastal city of Sfax, destined to make the perilous journey to Europe. Half of all the 75,000 migrants reaching the coast of Italy and cities such as Lampedusa (some 80 miles from Sfax) thus far in 2023, are reported to have began their journey in Tunisia. This has made Tunisia the focus for an unprecedented new migration crisis. There are reports almost daily of bodies washing up on Tunisia’s shores, with unclaimed bodies filling hospital corridors and morgues.

The explosion in migrants making the journey from Tunisia has led coastguards to publish data revealing that they have managed to intercept and stop as many as 17,000 migrants from reaching their European destination, during the first four months of this year, compared to less than 3,000 during the similar period last year.

European Union and Tunisian ‘Strategic Partnership’ intended to stem the tide of migrants leaving Tunisia for Europe

It is hoped that the ‘Strategic Partnership’ deal signed between the European Union and Tunisia on 16th July, will provide Tunisia with the financial and logistical resource to stem the rising tide of migration into Europe.

UN describes Tunisia’s dumping of Sub Saharan migrants on borders of Libya as an ‘unfolding tragedy’

Following the announcement by Tunisia’s Interior Minister, the United Nations published a statement expressing their concern for the safety of hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants which had been shifted by Tunisian security forces into areas in remote parts of the North of Tunisia, bordering Libya and Algeria. Some had even been forcibly pushed across the border into the extreme heat of the desert, without access to water or food. The United Nations described the development as an ‘unfolding tragedy’ and the NGO, Human Rights Watch reported that upwards of 1,200 sub Saharan Africans, including many pregnant women and children,  had been ‘expelled or forcibly transferred’ to border regions and stranded in the scorching sun.

Significant loss of life reported among stranded migrants

The UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a joint statement confirming significant loss of life among those stranded and urged the countries involved to live up their legal obligations. The statement said:

‘Tragically, there are reports of the loss of life among the group. UNHCR and IOM are deeply saddened by this situation…this unfolding tragedy needs to end’

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