1 dead as migrant boat heading to Italy sinks off Tunisia coast

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At least one person has been killed and seven have been injured after a migrant boat heading to Italy capsized off the coast of Tunisia, AFP has reported.

According to security officials, a makeshift vessel transporting young Tunisians from the coastal city of Zarzis overturned near the island of Djerba at around 3am on Sunday morning; the boat had been at sea for 21 hours.

The boat was spotted by local fishermen who alerted the National Guard, guard’s spokesman Houssemeddine Jebabli said.

The body of one migrant who drowned in the incident was recovered, along with seven others survivors; two men, suspected of being the captain of the boat and another who helped organise the crossing, fled the scene themselves.

Whilst the number of migrants making the crossing from Tunisia has decreased, many young people still risk their lives in the hopes of gaining a better life in Europe. More than 4,500 Tunisians have already arrived in the country since the beginning of the year.

According to the UN’s migration agency, 1,443 people died or went missing during attempts to cross the Mediterranean in the first half of 2018. Italy’s new populist government has vowed to tackle the migration crisis, placing pressure on North African countries to prevent people from making an illegal journey.

Last month, Tunisian security forces foiled an attempt by smugglers to cross the country’s maritime border from the coast of El Haouaria to transport 11 migrants from the country. Four people were detained, whilst the rest of the smugglers escaped by jumping into the water.

Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini warned that Italy would no longer accept the repatriation of refugees from any European countries, despite EU law stating that migrants can be deported to the first country of their arrival.

“If anyone in Berlin or Brussels is thinking of dumping dozens of immigrants in Italy through unauthorised charter flights they should know there is not and will not be any airport available,” the head of the anti-immigrant League Party and deputy prime minister said on Twitter. “We will close the airports like we closed the ports.”

Italy has also made efforts to send migrants back to transit hotspot Libya, despite international laws prohibiting the deportation of refugees to a place where their lives are in danger. Both the United Nations and EU have acknowledged that Libya is not safe, but in July, Salvini asked EU interior ministers to reconsider that assessment.

The Italian government has already given funds to Libyan authorities to round up refugees and prevent them from travelling to Europe, despite detained migrants at risk of beatings, abuse, rape and slavery.