Death toll rises to 61 in migrant ship sinking off Tunisia
The death toll from a ship packed with African migrants that sank off the Tunisian coast this week has risen to 61, a local official said on Saturday.
Tunisian search teams recovered the bodies of 13 men and women Thursday, 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 off the Mediterranean coastal city of Sfax, and 19 other bodies were found floating in nearby waters.
The Coast Guard had recovered more bodies including a baby, raising the death toll to 61, Mourad Mechri, a civil protection official, said.
Navy units and divers from the civil protection services are continuing to search the area for other possible victims, the health director for the Sfax region, Ali Ayadi, told The Associated Press.
Many of the victims were buried in Sfax on Wednesday, Ayadi said. All the victims are from sub-Saharan Africa, notably Cote d’Ivoire, except for the Tunisian captain, according to Tunisian authorities.
A nongovernmental organization 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 sinking has revived concerns in Tunisia about migrants fleeing tensions in neighboring Libya, despite hundreds of millions of euros in European aid to Libya to stop migrants from leaving. Attempts to leave Tunisia for the Italian coast increased by more than 150 percent from January through April compared with the same period last year, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
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 neighboring Libya.
Last year, 86 African migrants drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia having set off for Europe from Libya, in one of the worst such accidents Tunisian authorities have had to deal with.
The EU has sent hundreds of millions of euros to Libya, largely channeled through U.N. 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.