14 dead, 54 rescued off Tunisia in migrant boat sinking

March 9, 2023 GMT

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — At least 14 Africans died and 54 were rescued when a boat in which they were trying to reach Europe sank off the coast of Tunisia, the Tunisian National Guard said Thursday.

The 14 bodies were recovered overnight in the Mediterranean Sea off Tunisia’s central Sfax region, National Guard spokesperson Houssameddine Jbabli told the Associated Press. The National Guard said the migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa but did not release their nationalities.

On the same night, coast guard vessels thwarted 14 other boats carrying a total of 435 migrants attempting a similar journey from central and southern regions of Tunisia, Jbabli said.

People fleeing conflict or poverty routinely take boats from Tunisian shores toward Europe, even though the central Mediterranean is the most dangerous migration route in the world, according to the International Organization for Migration. Many are from sub-Saharan Africa, but Tunisians and people of other nationalities are also among those risking the journey.


Tunisian authorities have stepped up arrests of Africans without residency papers in recent weeks after President Kais Saied lashed out at sub-Saharan migrants. The comments fanned a surge in racist incidents targeting Black Africans in Tunisia.

In Brussels, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson expressed concern on Thursday about the president’s statements, saying they are “very worrying,” but underlined Tunisia’s role in helping prevent migrants reaching Europe.

“Tunisia is a core country for cooperation when it comes to preventing smuggling but also when it comes to readmission of Tunisian citizens that come here and are not eligible for international protection,” she told reporters.

Tunisians were among the top three nationalities — along with Egyptians and Bangladeshis — to reach Europe last year after crossing from the North African coast.

The EU sent hundreds of millions of euros in aid in 2022, much of it to help Tunis deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2014-2020, the bloc invested 1.6 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in Tunisia — Africa’s closest point to mainland Italy — in governance, democracy building, and social and economic assistance.

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