At least 10 Tunisian migrants were missing, and one died after their boat sank off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, a judicial official said on Sunday.

By Reuters, AFP

Tunisia is facing an unprecedented migration crisis and has replaced Libya as a main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

The latest tragedy raises the number of dead and missing off the North African country’s coasts to more than 600 in the first half of 2023, far more than in any previous year, according to figures compiled by Reuters.

Tunisia’s coastguard rescued 11 people from the boat, which set off from the coast off the town of Zarzis, Faouzi Masmoudi, a judge in the city of Sfax, told Reuters.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, a human rights group, said on Saturday that the number of dead and missing in boat sinkings has reached 608 and the coastguard had foiled attempts to board boats by about 33,000 people from Tunisia’s coasts.

Tunisia is under pressure from European countries to stop large numbers of people departing from its coasts. But President Kais Saied has said it will not act as a border guard.

Many black migrants in Tunisia have been made homeless amid a wave of racist violence since Saied earlier this year accused them of causing a crime wave and representing a “criminal plot” to change the country’s demographic composition.

The North African country hosts around 21,000 undocumented migrants from other parts of Africa, less than 0.2 per cent of the population.

Hundreds, including children and pregnant women, were made homeless in the winter cold and many registered with their embassies for repatriation, mostly to West African countries.

Others have sought to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats from Tunisia, whose coast lies about 130 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa at its closest point.

Rome said in February that more than 32,000 migrants, including 18,000 Tunisians, reached Italy from Tunisia last year, while thousands more have departed from neighbouring Libya. –

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