Tunisian navy rescues 178 migrants at sea

Two bodies recovered in three operations off Tunisia's south coast

Illegal migrants of South Asian origin rescued by Tunisia's national guard during an attempted crossing of the Mediterranean by boat rest at the port of el-Ketef in Ben Guerdane in southern Tunisia near the border with Libya on June 24, 2021. Tunisia and Libya are key departure points for migrants attempting the dangerous crossing from the North African coast to Europe, particularly Italy. / AFP / FATHI NASRI
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The Tunisian Defence Ministry on Sunday said its navy had rescued 178 migrants who were trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to reach Europe.

Two bodies were recovered and 178 migrants rescued in three operations off Tunisia's south coast, the ministry said.

It said the migrants were from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Mali and Ethiopia, and had set off from the Libyan port of Zuwara overnight on Friday and Saturday.

Tunisian authorities on Thursday intercepted 267 would-be migrants who had begun the sea crossing from Libya, most of them Bangladeshis, the International Organisation for Migration said.

Red Crescent official Mongi Slim said on Thursday that centres set up to house migrants in southern Tunisia were full.

IOM figures show more than 1,000 migrants hoping to reach Europe had set off from Libya and ended up in Tunisia since January, and the number of departures was rising.

There have been 11,000 departures from January to April 2021 from Libya, more than 70 per cent over the same period last year, the UN refugee agency UNHCR says.

The agency said the "deteriorating" conditions for migrants in Libya were pushing many to make the dangerous crossing to Europe.

The UN says at least 760 people have died trying to make the Mediterranean crossing between January 1 and May 31.