At least five Africans are dead and dozens believed missing after three boats attempting to carry migrants across the Mediterranean Sea sank in recent days off the coast of the Tunisian city of Sfax, the Tunisian coast guard said Thursday.
Bodies of five people, including one child, were recovered in the area in recent days, Sfax Prosecutor Faouzi Masmoudi said.
Masmoudi told The Associated Press that navy units had rescued 73 migrants after the three shipwrecks, but survivors’ accounted indicated as many as 47 others were missing. Six of the missing were reported to be children.
Masmoudi said the boats were made of iron and took on water as soon as they reached the open sea.
Most of the growing number of attempts to migrate to Italy by boat from Tunisia leave from the area around Sfax, a port on Tunisia’s central coast.
Masmoudi said the number of victims buried in Sfax’s cemeteries since January has reached almost 500, a significant increase from the previous two years. In 2022, 355 burials were recorded and 226 in 2021, he said.
Migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, are undertaking the perilous journey from Tunisia in unprecedented numbers. Tunisian authorities say they stopped 13,000 migrants from making the crossing from Sfax in the first three months of this year alone.
Tunisia has seen growing numbers of migrants arriving via neighboring Libya and is facing a financial and political crisis of its own that is driving growing numbers of young Tunisians to seek a better life in Europe.
The leaders of Italy and the Netherlands along with the EU Commission president are traveling to Tunisia on Sunday with a packet of security initiatives to ease the way for a possible international bailout, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni told reporters Thursday.