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Families of 40 missing migrants protest in Tunis

By AFP - Feb 07,2024 - Last updated at Feb 07,2024

TUNIS — The families of 40 Tunisian migrants who went missing in the Mediterranean Sea last month protested in Tunis on Tuesday, asking authorities for answers.

The group of mostly teenagers from El Hencha, a small town in central Tunisia, had left from the coastal city of Sfax — one of the main departure points for irregular migrants hoping to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa some 150 kilometres away.

“We still have no information about them,” said Fethi Ben Farhat, 45, whose 17-year-old nephew, Malek, was among the missing migrants who disappeared at sea around January 11.

Malek Ben Farhat, a high-school dropout, abandoned an apprenticeship to become a mechanic hoping to link up with his older brother, who made it illegally to Italy four months ago, their uncle said.

“Young people cannot even consider learning a trade or working here,” said Ben Farhat. “They think it’s useless. All they think about is migration, especially when they see photos on social media of their friends” who made the crossing.

Tunisia’s economy is at a near-standstill with a 1.2 per cent growth rate estimated by the World Bank in 2023, while youth unemployment stands at around 38 per cent. 

Tunisian illegal arrivals in Italy last year formed the second-largest contingent behind Guineans at 17,304, according to the Italian interior ministry.

The Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES) said economic factors in Tunisia and visa restrictions in Europe were among the causes behind the large-scale migration.

“Not to forget economic and social factors that push migrants out of their countries of origin, added to climate conditions and political instability,” said 

FTDES spokesman Romdhane Ben Amor said “climate conditions and political instability” in Tunisian since President Kais Saied’s coup on July 25, 2021, were other reasons.

El Hencha resident Mohamed Henchi said his town of 6,000 inhabitant’s offers but few prospects to young people who believe that “Italy is the promised paradise”.

The families also blamed the smuggler.

“He worked the Sfax-Italy route as if it were a highway,” said Fatma Jlail, 37, who was waiting to hear from her younger brother. 

He brainwashed teenagers who wanted to leave due to the situation of our country,” she said.

“Where are our children? Who should be held responsible?” Jlail added.

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