The death toll in a migrant shipwreck off Tunisia’s coast has climbed to 54 people as more and more bodies are discovered, and the search is continuing.
The boat sank last weekend amid a recent spike in efforts to smuggle African migrants to Europe via Tunisia in recent months.
The sinking has revived concerns in Tunisia about migrants fleeing tensions in neighbouring Libya, despite hundreds of millions of euros in European aid to Libya to stop migrants from leaving.
Tunisian search teams recovered the bodies of 13 men and women on Thursday (June 11), according to the Defense Ministry.
Earlier in the week, the bodies of two toddlers and 20 adults washed up on the beaches of Kerkennah Island of the Mediterranean coastal city of Sfax, and 19 other bodies were found floating in nearby waters.
“Navy units and divers from the civil protection services are continuing to search the area for other possible victims. Many of the victims were buried in Sfax on Wednesday,” Ali Ayadi, health director for the Sfax region, told The Associated Press.
All the victims are from sub-Saharan Africa, notably Ivory Coast, except for the Tunisian captain, according to Tunisian authorities.
The UN refugee agency says attempts to leave Tunisia for the Italian coast increased by more than 150% from January through April compared with the same period last year.
Tunisia’s National Guard said last week that 140 migrants have been arrested recently trying to cross illegally. Most were sub-Saharan Africans fleeing tensions in neighbouring Libya.
A non-governmental organisation that works on migration and refugee issues, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, said the latest deaths are the inevitable result of restrictive and inhuman migration policies adopted by the European Union which are limited to a security approach to migration issues.”
The EU has sent hundreds of millions of euros to Libya, largely channeled through UN agencies, to slow the tide of migrant crossings.
The AP found that in a country without a functioning government, huge sums of European money have been diverted to intertwined networks of militiamen, traffickers and coast guard members who exploit migrants.