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1,300 migrants dead or missing off Tunisia in 2023 — NGO

By AFP - Feb 14,2024 - Last updated at Feb 14,2024

TUNIS — More than 1,300 irregular migrants died at sea or went missing trying to reach Europe from Tunisia last year, a Tunisian rights group said on Tuesday.

Islem Ghaarbi, a migration expert at the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights, told a press conference that "1,313 people died or disappeared off the Tunisian coast, a figure never reached in Tunisia".

Ghaarbi said at least two thirds came from sub-Saharan Africa, adding that the toll was "equivalent to approximately half of the deaths and missing in the Mediterranean" in 2023.

The UN's International Organisation for Migration said 2,498 people died or went missing while trying to cross the central Mediterranean last year, a 75-per cent increase on 2022.

Tunisia and Libya are the main North African departure points for thousands of irregular migrants who risk their lives every year in the hopes of having better lives in Europe.

Last December, the World Organisation against Torture published a report in which it said migrants and refugees in Tunisia were facing "daily institutional violence", including arbitrary arrests, forced displacements and expulsions towards the borders with Libya and Algeria.

The number of departures of sub-Saharan migrants from Tunisia surged after President Kais Saied said last February that “hordes of illegal migrants” represented a demographic threat to the country.

Last week, a court spokesman in the coastal city of Monastir said the bodies of 13 Sudanese migrants who had left from the port of Sfax were recently found, and that 27 other people who had sailed with them were still missing.

Tunisia’s worsening economy — the World Bank estimates growth was 1.2 per cent in 2023, while unemployment is at 38 per cent — has pushed more Tunisian migrants to seek better opportunities across the Mediterranean.

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