TUNIS: Almost 800 irregular migrants drowned off Tunisia in the first half of this year as they tried to reach Europe by boat, a National Guard spokesman told AFP on Thursday (Jul 27).
“789 bodies of migrants were recovered from the sea, including 102 Tunisians, the others foreigners and unidentified people,” said Houcem Eddine Jebabli, adding that more than 34,000 were rescued.
The North African country has become a major gateway for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers attempting the perilous sea voyage in often rickety boats in the hope of a better life in Europe.
The distance between Tunisia, near its second city of Sfax, and the Italian island of Lampedusa is about 130km, and the sea voyages pick up in the summer months.
Between Jan 1 and Jun 20, a total of 34,290 migrants were intercepted and rescued, sharply up from 9,217 over the same period of last year, Jebabli said.
More than 30,000 of those rescued this year were foreigners, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, he said.
Coastguard units carried out 1,310 operations in the first six months, more than double the number of missions for that period last year.
The Italian government says that more than 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to arrive on its shores so far this year, mostly from Tunisia and war-scarred Libya.
The central Mediterranean has become the world’s deadliest migratory route, claiming more than 20,000 lives since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.