Tunisia intercepts hundreds of migrants bound for Italy

North African nation has surge in migration driven by fighting in neighbouring Libya

Hundreds of Tunisian migrants have found their way into Italian port of Lampedusa. EPA
Hundreds of Tunisian migrants have found their way into Italian port of Lampedusa. EPA

Tunisian authorities stopped several boats heading for Italy this week, carrying about 160 African migrants seeking a path to Europe.

A boat carrying 70 people was intercepted off Sfax, south of the capital Tunis, a security source told InfoMigrants.

The boat’s passengers are believed to have disembarked in the city’s port.

The coastguard also stopped another boat with 60 migrants on board, including three Tunisians and 57 people from other African countries. There were 18 women and two children.

The Tunisian National Guard reportedly stopped nine Tunisians, including women, found in a car in Teboulba, in the Monastir governorate.

The car also contained outboard motors, foreign currency, Molotov cocktails and a gas container in the boot. It was thought they were bound for the coast.

In Jebeniana, Sfax governorate, the coastguard stopped a boat with 29 Tunisians aboard.

Tunisia has had a surge in the number of migrants passing through on the way to Europe since the start of Libya’s conflict in 2011.

The country is seen as a safer route across the Mediterranean than its war-torn neighbour.

Tunisian migrants continue to arrive in large numbers at Italy’s island of Lampedusa, one of the key gateways to Europe.

There were about a dozen rescue operations for hundreds of migrants off Lampedusa on Tuesday and arrivals continued overnight into Wednesday, the migration website reported.

On Tuesday morning, six small boats were rescued by authorities and 102 Tunisians were brought ashore.

That afternoon, another four boats carrying 71 Tunisians were rescued in waters off the island.

Another four boats with about 70 Tunisians aboard, were seen by a coastguard patrol boat in the evening and four more boats arrived overnight. They had a total of 67 people aboard.

There have been several migrant shipwrecks off the coast Lampedusa. Last November, more than 18 people died after a boat capsized in rough waters off the southern coast of the island.

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration reported in April that 16,724 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in almost four months of 2020, a 16 per cent increase from the 14,381 arriving in the same period last year.

Nearly half of all arrivals went to Greece, although 3,310 arrived in Italy.

More than 250 migrants were confirmed to have died while trying to reach Europe on the Mediterranean in the first four months of 2020.

Updated: July 23, 2020 11:08 PM

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