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The New Arab Staff

WATCH: Tunisian man in coma transported by family to Italy on 'boat of death'

Migrants regularly make dangerous journeys from Tunisia to Italy [Twitter/DW]

Date of publication: 25 July, 2020

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A Tunisian family has taken the drastic step of taking their 18-year-old son, who has been in a four-year-long coma, to Italy for treatment on an illegal migrant boat.
A Tunisian father has taken the extraordinary step of illegally transporting his family on a boat to Italy to find treatment for his son, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reported on Friday.

A video shared on Twitter and Instagram by journalist Jaafar Abdul Karim, who presents a talk show on DW's Arabic-language satellite channel, showed haunting images of Ahmed Houichi, who fell into a coma at the age of 14 after a car accident, on a small boat carrying refugees from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa.


The small craft sailed unsteadily on the Mediterranean Sea as Ahmed's mother shouted, "I'm finished, I don't know what to do! Sometimes I can't find food for him, sometimes I can't find medicine for him – I don't know what to do!"

Tens of thousands of migrants from across Africa have attempted to make the illegal journey from Tunisia to Italy in order to escape poverty, unemployment, and conflict. The small boats transporting them have become known as "boats of death" in the Middle East because of their propensity to sink and drown their passengers.

Six members of the Houichi family, who come from Sfax in Tunisia, were on the boat. Ahmed's father Raouf said that he was forced to make the dangerous and illegal journey in order to save his son’s life after exhausting all other measures.

"I only wanted to treat my son. I went to the provincial governor but he didn't respond to me. They didn’t want to give me anything. The hospital didn't accept us," Raouf said in a voice clip that featured in the DW video.

Read also: Tunisia's marginalised Tataouine rises up against broken government promises

Ahmed lost powers of speech and movement as a result of the coma.

However, the family's attempt to reach Italy was unsuccessful, DW reported.

A Tunisian Coast Guard boat picked them up and sent them back to Tunisia.

DW reported that social media users had a mixed reaction to Raouf's drastic step of putting his entire family on an illegal boat to Italy in order to find treatment for his son.

"It's no excuse for you to expose seven people to death on a boat to treat one person," one Facebook user is reported to have said.

Other reactions were more sympathetic.

"If I were in their place I would do more than this. He didn’t find treatment in his country so he did whatever he could to treat his son," another Facebook user said.

Last June 61 people died when a migrant boat heading for Italy sank off the Tunisian coast. Tunisia is currently facing a major economic crisis, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, and hundreds of people have protested against poverty, unemployment, and government neglect of rural regions.

Despite the danger Raouf said the family would try to reach Italy again.

"I am already dead, whether I'm at home, at sea, or on land," he said. "My son is dying before my eyes and I’m watching him."

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