19 sub-Saharan African migrants drown off Tunisia coast

19 sub-Saharan African migrants drown off Tunisia coast

The boat carrying them across the Mediterranean sank off the coast of Tunisia, killing 19 people from sub-Saharan Africa.

The authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on undocumented sub-Saharan Africans after people departing from the north African country. Last month, Tunisia's president, Kais Saied, made an incendiary, racist speech in which he claimed irregular migration from other parts of Africa was part of an international conspiracy to change Tunisia's demographic character.

Five migrant boats have sunk off the southern city of Sfax over the past four days, leaving 67 missing and nine dead, amid an increase in boats heading towards Italy.

The Tunisian coastguard rescued five people from the boat off the coast of Mahdia after a journey that started from Sfax beaches, Romadan ben Omar, an official at the Forum for Social and Economic Rights FTDES, told Reuters on Sunday.

Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.

The coastguard said it had stopped about 80 boats heading for Italy in the past four days and detained more than 3,000 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries.

The coast near Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe. According to UN data, at least 12,000 migrants who reached Italy this year set sail from Tunisia this year, compared to 1,300 in the same period of 2022. Libya was the main departure point for migrants.

According to the FTDES statistics, Tunisia's coastguard prevented more than 14,000 migrants from setting off in boats during the first three months of this year, compared to 2,900 during the same period last year.

The Italian coastguard said on Thursday it had rescued about 750 migrants in two operations off the southern Italian coast.

On Friday, Italy's prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, said that if Tunisia's financial stability was not safeguarded, there would be a large number of migrants arriving in Europe from North Africa. She called on the IMF and some countries to take swift action to prevent the country's economic collapse.