23 dead as migrant boats capsize off Tunisia and Lebanon

At least 23 migrants have drowned after four boats carrying migrants sank off Tunisia while another boat capsized on the Lebanese coast.

Tunisian authorities have recovered the bodies of 17 migrants after four boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe capsized, a court official said on Sunday.

“The makeshift boats were in poor condition” and had sailed overnight from Friday to Saturday from the Mediterranean port city of Sfax, said Mourad Turki, spokesman for the court.

Among the victims were a woman and “at least one baby”, he said, adding that he feared the death toll could rise.

Survivors said “there were between 30 and 32 people aboard each boat,” Turki said.

The majority of those attempting the latest deadly crossing were sub-Saharan Africans, including citizens of Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Somalia, he added.

Tunisia and neighboring Libya are key departure points for migrants seeking to reach European shores, often aboard barely seaworthy vessels.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is only about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the Tunisian coast.

Libyan authorities on Sunday arrested 542 potential migrants preparing to leave for Europe in inflatable boats, a security source said.

An AFP photographer said most were from Bangladesh.

The International Organization for Migration said nearly 2,000 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2021, up from 1,401 the previous year.

It is the deadliest migration route in the world, but people hoping to build a better life in Europe are increasingly risking it.

On Saturday, an overloaded migrant boat capsized in northern Lebanon, killing at least six people, including a little girl.

The boat was carrying nearly 60 people and Lebanese naval forces were able to rescue 48, the army said.

Lebanon is in the grip of an unprecedented financial crisis, with the currency losing more than 90% of its value and the majority of the population living below the poverty line.

On the Lebanese coast, at least six people have died, including a baby girl, and nearly 50 others have been rescued after a migrant boat sank, Lebanese media reported, in the latest tragedy at sea off of the country affected by the crisis.

The boat capsized on Saturday evening near the northern port city of Tripoli, the starting point for a growing number of people attempting a life-threatening escape by sea.

The fatal accident, weeks before legislative elections scheduled for May 15, is not the first of its kind for the crisis-hit country grappling with its worst financial crash.

But it marks a grim reminder of the suffering of a growing number of people, including Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees, risking their lives at sea in search of a better future abroad.

“Army naval forces managed to rescue 48 people and recover the body of a dead girl…from a boat that sank while trying to smuggle them out,” the army said. in a press release.

He said the boat that left the Qalamoun area south of Tripoli capsized due to overcrowding and high water levels that nearly flooded the vessel.

“Most of the people on board were rescued,” the army said, without specifying their nationality or the number of people missing.

“Sea, land and air operations are underway to rescue those still missing,” he said.

The army said a man had been arrested for his alleged involvement in the smuggling operation.

The army recovered five bodies off Tripoli on Sunday, the official National News Agency reported, revising an earlier death toll of eight, hours after the body of a baby girl returned to shore.

One of the survivors claimed that an army boat was pursuing the migrant ship, sinking it.

“The patrol boat hit us twice … to drown us,” the man told AFP at the port, before being silenced and taken away by a crowd of relatives of the survivors.

Last November, a boat carrying dozens of potential migrants also sank off Tripoli after being chased by the Lebanese army.

The passengers were rescued and towed to shore.

Lebanon, which struck a ‘rollback’ deal with Cyprus to prevent crossings, is in the grip of an unprecedented financial crisis, with the currency losing more than 90% of its value and the majority of the population living under it. of the poverty line.

The economic crash has spurred an increase in sea crossings out of the country, with increasing numbers of Lebanese joining the ranks of Syrian and Palestinian refugees trying to cross illegally to Europe.

Earnest A. Martinez