At least 19 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa died when their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, a human rights group said on Sunday.
In the past four days, five migrant boats have sunk off the southern city of Sfax, leaving 67 missing and nine dead, after a significant increase in boats heading towards Italy.
The Tunisian coast guard rescued five people from the boat off the coast of Mahdia after a journey that started from Sfax beaches, Romadan ben Omar, an official at the Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES), said.
Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
The coast guard said it had stopped about 80 boats heading for Italy in the past four days and detained more than 3,000 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries.
The coast near Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.
The latest disaster comes in the midst of a campaign of arrests by the Tunisian authorities of undocumented sub-Saharan Africans.
According to UN data, at least 12,000 migrants who reached Italy this year set sail from Tunisia, compared with 1,300 in the same period of 2022. Previously, Libya was the main departure point for migrants.
According to FTDES statistics, Tunisia’s coast guard prevented more than 14,000 migrants setting off in boats during the first three months of this year, compared with 2,900 during the same period last year.
The Italian coast guard said on Thursday it had rescued about 750 migrants in two operations off the southern Italian coast.
Europe risks seeing a huge wave of migrants arriving on its shores from North Africa if financial stability in Tunisia is not safeguarded, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Friday. Meloni called on the IMF and some countries to help Tunisia quickly to avoid its collapse.