African Migrant Shipwreck off Tunisia Leaves at Least 20 Dead

Tunisian civil protection workers recover the body of an African migrant near the eastern city of Zarzis, on July 16, 2019. - A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left Tunisia overwhelmed with bodies and struggling to find them a final resting place. More than 80 drowned migrants have …
FATHI NASRI/AFP via Getty Images

ROME — At least 20 African migrants drowned Thursday when a dinghy carrying about 45 people sank off the coast of Tunisia.

The small boat was attempting to cross the Strait of Sicily on Christmas Eve day to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, a common point of arrival for African migrants attempting to enter Europe, according to Mohamed Zekri, spokesman for the Tunisian Defense Ministry.

The Tunisian Coast Guard rescued five people who are in serious condition and was still searching for about 20 more who were still unaccounted for. A Coast Guard spokesman in Sfax, Ali al-Ayari, confirmed the migrants were all from sub-Saharan Africa.

The official also noted that the dinghy sank about six miles off the coast of Sfax, a port city that has become a popular departure point for African migrants looking to get to Europe.

On the same morning of December 24, nongovernmental organization Alarm Phone, which monitors migrant boats in the Mediterranean, reported that a craft fleeing Libya and carrying 65 people, including several children, was in trouble, adrift between the Tunisian Kerkennah islands and Lampedusa.

The boat eventually reached Malta and was awaiting rescue.

In noting news of the Tunisian shipwreck, Alarm Phone blamed the tragedy not on unscrupulous human traffickers, but on Europe. “Europe’s borders kill,” it said in a tweet.

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