Tunisia coastguard recovers 29 bodies after migrant vessels capsize

TUNIS: Tunisia’s coastguard said Sunday the bodies of 29 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries had been recovered after three vessels capsized.

It also “rescued 11 illegal migrants of various African nationalities after their boats sank” off the central eastern coast, it said in a statement, citing three separate sinkings.

In one incident, a Tunisian fishing trawler recovered 19 bodies 58 kilometres (36 miles) off the coast after their boat capsized.

A coastguard patrol off the coastal city of Mahdiya also recovered eight bodies and “rescued” 11 other migrants after their boat sank as it headed towards Italy.

Fishing trawlers in Sfax meanwhile recovered two other bodies.

A string of shipwrecks have left dozens of migrants dead and others missing since President Kais Saied made an incendiary speech last month, accusing sub-Saharan Africans of representing a demographic threat and causing a crime wave in Tunisia.

Black migrants in the country have faced a spike in violence and hundreds have been living in the streets for weeks in increasingly desperate conditions.

People fleeing poverty and violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, West Africa and other parts of the continent have for years used Tunisia as a springboard for often perilous attempts to reach safety and better lives in Europe.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 150 kilometres (90 miles) off the Tunisian coast, but Rome has pressured Tunisian authorities to rein in the flow of people, and has helped beef up the coastguard, which rights groups accuse of violence.

Italy’s hard-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni warned Friday that Tunisia’s “serious financial problems” risked sparking a “migratory wave” towards Europe.

She also confirmed plans for a mission to the North African country involving the Italian and French foreign ministers.

Meloni echoed comments earlier in the week by Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who warned Tunisia risks economic collapse that could trigger a new flow of migrants to Europe — fears Tunis has since dismissed.

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