Thirty-Nine African Migrants Drown in Mediterranean Shipwrecks

TOPSHOT - Migrants from Tunisia and Lybia arrive onboard of an Italian Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) boat in the Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa on August 1, 2020. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Twin shipwrecks off the coast of Sfax, in eastern Tunisia, claimed the lives of at least 39 African migrants Tuesday including 9 women and 4 children.

A spokesman for the Tunisian National Guard, Houcem Eddine Jebabli, said the mostly sub-Saharan migrants had set sail during the night aboard two makeshift boats in an effort to cross the perilous Strait of Sicily to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Both of the vessels sank, resulting in the mass drowning. The Tunisian Coast Guard was, however, able to rescue 165 survivors from the twin shipwrecks.

Mr. Jebabli attributed the disaster to the poor condition of the boats and the fact they were overloaded beyond capacity.

Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea have risen since Italy indicated it was once again opening its ports to immigration.

The number of Tunisian migrants landing on Italian shores jumped fivefold in 2020, to 13,000, Reuters reported.

Last November, 2,462 irregular immigrants landed in Italy in the first five days of the month despite tight anti-coronavirus regulations.

As of that date, 29,952 irregular migrants had arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of 2020. By comparison, fewer than a third as many irregular migrants (9,944) had disembarked in Italy during the same period in 2019, when Italy had stricter immigration policies.

After stepping down from his post as interior minister, the leader of Italy’s Lega party, Matteo Salvini, blamed the ensuing sharp increase in migrant sea deaths on the leftist government’s open-port policy.

“These deaths are the results of do-gooders, of ‘there is room for everyone,’ of open ports, of renewed enthusiasm for the smugglers,” Salvini said in late 2019.

“The number of landings has tripled. Those who allowed the ports to be reopened, do they mourn these dead people?” the party leader added.

Meanwhile, rescue operations continue in search of any other survivors from Tuesday’s shipwrecks, said ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri.


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