xi's moments
Home | Africa

Tunisia hit by migrant boat tragedy

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-27 09:29

At least 19 refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have reportedly drowned trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia to Italy, in the latest tragedy to blight the region.

Romdhane Ben Amor, a representative from Tunisian non-governmental organization the Forum for Social and Economic Rights, or FTDES, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying five other people were rescued from the waters by Tunisian coast guards, after a boat sank off the coast near the city of Mahdia, having begun its voyage from the beaches around the port of Sfax, which has become a major departure point.

At the same time, Italian news agency ANSA reported a record number of asylum seekers landing on the island of Lampedusa on Saturday, with more than 2,000 making the crossing successfully.

For a long time, Libya was the main departure point for migrant boats, but data published by the United Nations shows that Tunisia is increasingly becoming the focus of the crossings, with the Al Jazeera news network claiming that so far this year, at least 12,000 people have crossed from Tunisia to Italy, in contrast to 1,300 in the same period last year.

Statistics from FTDES show a similarly steep increase in failed crossing attempts, with Tunisian coast guards stopping more than 14,000 people from boarding boats in the first three months of the year, compared to just under 3,000 in the same period in 2022.

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has called on the International Monetary Fund to intervene and help the Tunisian economy to save it from collapse, or the migrant crisis could grow even bigger.

"If we do not adequately address those problems, we risk unleashing an unprecedented wave of migration," she said at the recent European Union leaders' summit, shortly after Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told the RAI radio service that unless economic aid was granted soon, Europe could see "tens, maybe hundreds of thousands" of migrant boat arrivals.

Kais Saied became Tunisia's president in 2019 after a landslide victory with 73 percent of votes in the runoff election, but the pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the country's vital tourism sector, adding to existing economic and political issues.

He suspended Parliament in the summer of 2021 and dissolved it in March 2022, and elections for a new one last December saw a turnout of just 8.8 percent.

Saied has picked out migrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in Tunisia as being the cause of a crimewave and even gone as far as accusing unnamed groups of settling Africans in the country for money in an attempt to change its demographics.

"The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations," Saied said during a meeting of the country's National Security Council in February.

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349