Thirteen bodies of migrants were found Thursday off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, said the Tunisian coast guard, which also rescued 25 other migrants.
Tunisian coastguards announced on Thursday (July 13th) that they had recovered 13 bodies of migrant victims after a shipwreck off the port city of Sfax, where clashes took place last week between migrants and locals.
“Last night, units attached to the maritime region of Sfax thwarted an attempted clandestine crossing and rescued 25 sub-Saharan migrants, but 13 bodies were recovered,” the National Guard said in a statement.
Sfax, the second largest city in Tunisia, is the main starting point this year for candidates to emigrate to Europe, the Italian island of Lampedusa being less than 150 km from the Tunisian coast.
Last week, this city of a million inhabitants was the scene of clashes that claimed the life of a Tunisian on 3 July.
Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were then driven from the city and taken by the Tunisian authorities, according to NGOs, to inhospitable areas on the border with Libya to the east and Algeria to the west.
According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, at least 100 to 150 migrants were still stranded on Thursday evening near the Libyan border, towards Ras Jedir, in a militarized zone, without water, shelter or food. On Wednesday, they had launched an emergency call in a video sent to AFP, saying they had children and pregnant women among them.
Increase in xenophobia
According to HRW, another group of 200 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries were left to fend for themselves near the Algerian border in Tamaghza, 600 km south of Tunis. Rescue teams are on their way to help them.
Witnesses told AFP various convoys would have dispersed dozens of migrants in areas near the border with Algeria, 1,000 km long.
The Tunisian Red Crescent sheltered 630 migrants between Sunday and Monday, some of whom spent a week in the Ras Jedir buffer zone on the Libyan border.
According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), published in June, 51,215 illegal migrants arrived in Italy this year by sea, 150% more than the previous year. Almost half came from Tunisia and the other half from Libya. A thousand migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean during this period.
An increasingly openly xenophobic discourse has spread since Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed, who assumed full powers in July 2021, condemned illegal immigration in February.
He condemned the arrival in Tunisia of illegal “hordes of migrants” from sub-Saharan Africa and a plot “to change the demographic composition” of the country.
Tunisia is going through a serious economic and financial crisis, which is also pushing hundreds of Tunisians to try to reach Europe by sea.