It CAN Be Done: Tunisia Stops and Turns Backs Hundreds of Boat Migrants at Sea

migrants
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

(AFP) — Tunisia said Monday that naval patrols had intercepted 19 boats carrying a total of 246 people seeking to cross from the North African nation to Europe overnight Saturday to Sunday alone. The vast majority of those stopped were Tunisians, the interior ministry said, with just 29 people coming from other countries. Thousands regularly risk the dangerous crossing from North Africa’s coasts to reach Europe.

For Tunisia, a small Mediterranean country with a population of around 11 million, the number of people attempting the crossing dropped sharply from a peak in 2011. But it began rising again in 2017, driven in part by the struggling economy and deep inequalities in the country, almost a decade after a revolution that many hoped would bring change.

Tunisia is currently battling high unemployment and political instability, and restrictions to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus have hit its economy hard. Over 8,580 people have been stopped trying to cross the Mediterranean from the country’s coasts so far this year, three-quarters of them Tunisians, according to interior ministry figures.

Many seek to make landfall in Italy, which has been struggling to deal with daily arrivals of hundreds of people to its southern shores, and last month announced plans to repatriate Tunisian migrants.

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