5 dead and dozens missing after 3 shipwrecks of migrant boats off the Tunisian coast

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — At least five Africans have died and dozens are missing after three boats attempting to transport migrants across the Mediterranean Sea sank off the Tunisian city of Sfax in recent days, officials said Thursday. Tunisian Coast Guard.

The bodies of five people, including a child, have been recovered from the area in recent days, said Sfax prosecutor Faouzi Masmoudi.

Masmoudi told The Associated Press that navy units rescued 73 migrants after the three shipwrecks, but testimonies from survivors said another 47 were missing. Six of the missing are believed to be children.

Masmoudi said the boats were made of iron and took on water as soon as they reached sea.

Most of the growing number of attempts to migrate to Italy by boat from Tunisia depart from the area around Sfax, a port on Tunisia’s central coast.

Masmoudi said the number of victims buried in Sfax cemeteries since January has reached nearly 500, a significant increase from the previous two years. In 2022, 355 burials were recorded and 226 in 2021, he said.

Migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are undertaking the perilous journey from Tunisia in unprecedented numbers. Tunisian authorities say they have stopped 13,000 migrants from crossing from Sfax in the first three months of this year alone.

Tunisia has seen a growing number of migrants arrive via neighboring Libya and is facing a financial and political crisis that is driving increasing numbers of young Tunisians to seek a better life in Europe.

Italian and Dutch leaders as well as the president of the European Commission will travel to Tunisia on Sunday with a package of security initiatives to pave the way for a possible international rescue plan, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told reporters on Thursday. .

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