TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – About 20 African migrants were found dead on Thursday after their smuggler boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe, Tunisian officials said. Five survivors have been rescued and the Tunisian navy is looking for up to 20 others who are still missing.
Tunisian coast guard boats and local fishermen found and recovered the bodies in the waters of the coastal city of Sfax, in central Tunisia, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ben Zekri told the Associated Press.
According to the survivors, the migrant smuggling boat was carrying about 40 or 50 people heading for Italy, said Ben Zekri.
The boat was overloaded and in poor condition, and faced strong winds on Thursday morning that may have contributed to the shipwreck, National Guard spokesman Ali Ayari said. He was transporting migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, he told the AP.
Tunisian navy units were looking for more survivors.
The Tunisian authorities claim to have intercepted several migrant smuggling boats recently, but that the number of attempts has been growing, especially between the Sfax region and the Italian island of Lampedusa.
More than 1,100 migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean this year, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration.
Migrant smuggling boats often leave the coast of Tunisia and neighboring Libya, transporting people from across Africa, including an increasing number of Tunisians fleeing prolonged economic difficulties. in your country.
Tunisians are the vast majority of migrants arriving in Italy this year, despite Rome’s efforts to negotiate with Tunisia to end the crossings. Of the 34,001 migrants who arrived in Italy this year, 12,847 were Tunisians, or 38%. Bangladesh was the second largest group, followed by those from Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, Pakistan and Egypt.
Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.