Twenty-seven people are dead or missing after two migrant boats sank off the east coast of Tunisia.

The first boat left Tunisia for Italy on Friday, with 37 on board. Twenty are missing while 17 have been rescued, a court spokesperson in the city of Sfax said.

On Saturday, four bodies were recovered from a beach after a second boat sank.

Thirty-six people who were on the second boat were rescued and three are missing, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson, Faouzi Masmoudi, said the boats were made of iron sheets.

Since the start of March, there have been at least seven similar shipwrecks off Tunisia, with around 100 people dead or missing.

Parts of the Tunisian coastline are only about 150 kilometres from Lampedusa, an Italian island frequently used as a crossing point to the mainland.

Its proximity to Italy has seen Tunisia overtake Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing conflict and dire poverty in the Middle East and Africa, seeking a better life in Europe.

In the first three months of this year, more than 14,000 migrants – most of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa – have been intercepted trying to reach Europe from Tunisia, according to the country’s coastguard. The number is five times higher than for the corresponding period last year.

The figures for 2023 are “up very sharply because there are many more departures”, said Houssem Jebabli, spokesperson for the Tunisian national guard.

Migrants often pay vast sums of money to be transported in unsafe vessels by people smugglers.

Mr Masmoudi, the Sfax court spokesperson, said it was crucial that the traffickers themselves are detained, as he announced investigations into both boat accidents.

The aim, he said, was to find “the organisers of these attempted crossings who made them embark on iron sheet boats, which do not offer minimum safety conditions at all but which are cheaper to manufacture than wooden ones”.

Source : BBC

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