TUNIS: An infant and a 20-year-old man were found dead on Saturday after a migrant boat sank off the coast of Tunisia, near the southeastern port of Gabes, the country’s coast guard reported.
According to a statement from the National Guard, the boat was carrying 20 Tunisian migrants when it sank just 120 meters from the beaches of Gabes.
Thirteen people were rescued, and search efforts are continuing to locate five who are still missing.
The prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the causes and circumstances of the incident, the statement said.
Gabes port is located around 140 km from Sfax, a point of departure for many of the Mediterranean crossing operations toward Europe.
The latest incident adds to the increasing number of casualties in the Mediterranean’s perilous waters.
Just a few days ago, 41 migrants were believed to have drowned after setting off from Sfax, the Italian Red Cross and rescue groups said. Four survivors were rescued.
This tragedy underscores the migration crisis in the region, with many taking risky journeys in the hope of reaching European shores in search of a better life.
More than 1,800 people have died this year on the central Mediterranean migration route, the world’s deadliest — more than twice as many as last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The Tunisian coast guard says it intercepted 34,290 migrants in the six months to June 20, most from sub-Saharan African countries, compared with 9,217 over the same period in 2022.
The number of Africans attempting to make the crossing has risen sharply since Tunisian President Kais Saied alleged, in a speech on Feb. 21, that “hordes” of irregular migrants were causing crime and posing a demographic threat to the mainly Arab country.
Many have also fled since hundreds of migrants were arrested or chased into the desert after the fatal stabbing of a Tunisian man in a brawl with migrants in Sfax on July 3.
Tunisians have opted for the sea journeys in growing numbers as the country faces a grinding economic crisis and severe shortages of basic staples.
Italy says about 95,000 migrants have arrived on its shores since the start of the year — more than double the number during the same period in 2022.
Tunisians make up the fourth-largest group of migrants, behind those from the Ivory Coast, Guinea and Egypt.
Mohammed Borhen Chamtouri, a coast guard commander in Sfax, said on Thursday that the force had intercepted about 3,000 migrants in just 10 days this month, 90 percent of whom were from other parts of Africa.
In July, the EU signed an agreement with Tunisia that provides for €105 million ($115 million) in direct European aid to prevent the departure of migrant boats and to combat smugglers.
* With AFP and AP