23 Missing for Two Weeks in a Bid to Cross Mediterranean Sea

Sun May 19 2024
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TUNIS, Tunisia: Twenty-three people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia to Europe have been missing for the past two weeks, the country’s National Guard said in a statement on Saturday.

The National Guard, which oversees the North African country’s coast guard, said searches were still underway after the group departed in early May.

They set sail overnight between May 3 and 4 from the city of Nabeul, the statement said, adding that relatives of the missing did not contact authorities until 10 days later.

The National Guard, acting at the behest of prosecutors in Nabeul, said it had arrested five people allegedly involved in organizing the crossing.

it said two of the missing were related to some of the organizers.

The National Guard also said it found four bodies later Saturday after intercepting two attempts to cross into Europe and rescuing “52 migrants” near the city of Sfax, the main departure point to Italy.

The National Guard did not specify the nationalities of the bodies and rescued migrants.

But a press release from Benin’s foreign ministry said a boat carrying about 50 migrants of various nationalities, including from Benin capsized on the night of May 16-17 off the Tunisian coast.

This wreck has caused dozens of casualties which are currently being assessed, the press release said, adding that searches were underway to “identify the bodies of the victims”.

It remained unclear whether the wreck reported by Benin authorities was related to the ship, which the Tunisian National Guard said it had intercepted.

Tunisia is a key departure point for irregular migrants who risk dangerous sea journeys hoping to reach Europe.

According to the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES), an NGO, more than 1,300 people died or disappeared in shipwrecks last year.

Last week, authorities announced that the number of detained migrants rose by 22.5 percent, with more than 21,000 people prevented from leaving Tunisia or rescued in the first four months of 2024.

According to the National Guard, 21,545 people were detained between January 1 and April 30, compared to 17,576 during the same period last year.

Since January 1, the bodies of 291 shipwreck victims have been recovered, compared to 572 last year, in almost three times the number of operations (1,967 this year versus 686 in 2023).

Tunisians accounted for the second highest number of illegal migrants arriving in Italy last year, at 17,304, and were second only to Guineans with 18,204, Italian government figures show.

Last year, Tunisians accounted for the second largest number of irregular migrant arrivals in Italy, at 17,304 people, second only to Guineans at 18,204, Italian government figures show.

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