TUNIS-Twenty-seven migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are dead or missing and 53 others were rescued after two flimsy boats sank off Tunisia’s coast during attempts to reach Europe, an official said on Saturday.
The incidents are the latest of several over the past few weeks, and came after Tunisian officials reported a five-fold increase in rescues compared with the first quarter of last year.
In Morocco, 11 migrants drowned when their makeshift boat sank off the west coast, media reports said, adding that the dead were eight Moroccans and three sub-Saharans trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
One migrant was reported to have been rescued. There was no immediate confirmation of the reports from the Moroccan authorities. In Tunisia, Faouzi Masmoudi, the court spokesman in Sfax city, told AFP that four people died, three were missing and another three dozen were saved in the latest tragedy off the country’s coast on Saturday. “There was a new shipwreck this morning -- four bodies were recovered from the beach at Sfax and three other people are missing. Another 36 were saved,” Masmoudi said.
He said that another vessel with 37 people aboard went down after setting off from Tunisia’s coast before it “sank on Friday afternoon”, and that 20 people were unaccounted for.
Citing witness accounts, he added that 17 people were rescued from Friday’s incident. Enquiries have begun into both incidents, Masmoudi said.
He said the objective was to “find out the organisers behind these attempted crossings in boats made from metal sheeting which don’t even offer minimum safety conditions but are cheaper to make than wooden ones”.
Tunisia’s shores, only about 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, are increasingly being used as a springboard for often perilous attempts by West Africans, Sudanese and others to reach safety and better lives in Europe.