Tunisian coastguard finds 11 bodies after migrant boat went missing

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are rescued by the Tunisian National Guard off their makeshift boats which were used to make their way to the Italian coast, about 50 nautical miles in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of the central Tunisian city of Sfax on October 4, 2022. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)
Migrants from Africa line up after being rescued by the Tunisian National Guard. October 4, 2022. /AFP

The Tunisian coastguard has recovered 11 bodies thought to be of irregular migrants lost at sea while attempting to reach Europe, a spokesman said Friday.

The partly decomposed bodies were found on Thursday and Friday in Mediterranean waters off the central province of Mahdia, National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli told AFP.

He said DNA samples had been taken in order to establish their identities.

The bodies of eight migrants were recovered on Monday off the coast of the North African country, around two weeks after a makeshift boat carrying 18 people including a baby went missing.

Hundreds of Tunisians clashed with police on Wednesday during a protest to demand more search-and-rescue efforts.

Also angered over the burial of three suspected Tunisians in a nearby cemetery for foreign migrants, some demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at police.

A long-running economic crisis has pushed many Tunisians to attempt the perilous sea journey.

The North African country has a long coast, in places just 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Tunisia has long been a key departure point for African migrants, seeking what they feel is a better life in Europe.

Recent months have also seen a surge in attempts by Tunisians to reach Europe via Turkey and the Balkans, according to Jebabli, who said four networks involved in people smuggling on that route had been broken up.

Tunisian authorities, under pressure from Europe to cut back departures, say they are struggling to do so with limited means.

Generally, favourable weather from spring to early autumn sees a rise in illegal attempts to reach Italy from Tunisia and Libya, but such crossings often end in tragedy.

Tunisian authorities said Tuesday they had intercepted nearly 200 migrants attempting to reach Europe northwards across the Mediterranean Sea last weekend.

According to official figures, more than 22,500 migrants have been intercepted off the Tunisian coast since the start of the year, around half of them from sub-Saharan Africa.