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Two dead and 23 migrants missing off coast Tunisia

© Belga

At least 23 migrants are missing and two have died off the coast of Tunisia, the Red Crescent, a Tunisian humanitarian association, said on Wednesday.

The news comes the day after a rescue operation by the Tunisian army.

The Red Crescent said a boat carrying about 100 migrants left the Libyan port of Zouara on Sunday night and was rescued by the army not far from the Miskar oil platform, 67 kilometres off the Tunisian coast.

The survivors, 37 Eritreans, 32 Sudanese and one Egyptian – all between the ages of 15 and 40 – were picked up by the Red Crescent and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the port of Zarzis, in southern Tunisia.

The survivors reported that there were other passengers on board, two of whom were found drowned and 23 of whom remain missing, according to the Red Crescent.

The United Nations recently said that the European Union, through its migrant policy, is in part to blame for the deaths of migrants travelling across the central Mediterranean route.

The central Mediterranean is one of the deadliest migration routes according to the UN, counting more than 760 deaths in the Mediterranean between 1 January and 31 May 2021, and 1,400 for the year 2020.

The Belgian coast experiences regular interceptions of trans-migrants – in other words, migrants whose aim is not to remain here, but to move on, usually to the UK.

Just last month, more than 80 transmigrants were detained in Oostduinkerke while waiting to embark on a dangerous crossing to the UK, hardly a week after 49 refugees needed to be rescued after attempting much the same.

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The Tunisian army said it also brought 39 migrants from various sub-Saharan African countries to shore. That boat, which was 50 kilometres off the Tunisian coast, had left Sfax in central-eastern Tunisia also on Sunday night.

Tunisia rescues migrant boats every week, with departures rising sharply over the past two years. The reception facilities in the south of the country are beginning to saturate, especially as groups of migrants have to be quarantined on arrival because of the pandemic.

Attempts to emigrate from neighbouring Libya have also increased, with 11,000 departures from January to April 2021, 73% more than in the same period last year, due in particular to the deterioration of the situation for foreigners in the country, according to the High Commission for Refugees (HCR).

On 18 May, more than 50 people were reported missing and about 30 rescued off the coast of Tunisia after their boat sank from Libya.

The Brussels Times