Bodies of 11 migrants recovered off Tunisian coast

Bodies of 11 migrants recovered off Tunisian coast
3 min read
03 June, 2018
Eleven migrants were recovered and 67 others rescued after their boat began sinking off Tunisia's southern coast on Sunday, according to the interior ministry.
Sixty-seven others were rescued by Tunisia's coastguard [File Photo: AFP]

The bodies of 11 migrants have been recovered and 67 others rescued after their boat began sinking off Tunisia's southern coast, the interior ministry said on Sunday.

Those rescued from the fishing vessel off the coast of southern Sfax province included "Tunisians and foreigners", it said citing an initial toll.

The Tunisian national guard and navy units found the ship about 30 kilometres off shore after receiving a distress call at around midnight on Saturday. 

The ministry said search operations, with the help of military aircraft and divers, were ongoing. 

Tunisians and migrants regularly try to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better future in Europe, but departures peaked last September. 

According to NGOs, the uptick reflected frustration among young people hard hit by unemployment.

In October, a collision between a migrant boat and a Tunisian military ship left at least 44 dead, in what Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called a "national disaster”.

The recovery mission came as Turkey’s state media reported nine migrants, including six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat drowned on Sunday when the vessel sank off Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

Two adults, one woman and six children lost their lives when the boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey's Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added.

The Dogan news agency said that the group was seeking to head to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear.

The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.

The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear.

Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc's worst migration crisis since World War II. 

Turkey struck a deal with the EU in 2016 in a effort to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, and agreed to take back illegal migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for incentives including financial aid.

The deal, chastised by rights groups, sharply curbed the number of migrants seeking to cross the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas from Turkey to Greece.

However observers say that the numbers seeking to cross this route have been ticking up again in recent months.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 10,948 people crossed to Greece this year up to May 30, sharply more than in the same period in 2017. Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the IOM.

As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.

Last week, around 1,500 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean in operations involving the Italian navy and ships chartered by NGOs and the EU border agency Frontex.