Tunisia struggles to cope with number of migrant deaths

AFP , Saturday 29 Apr 2023

So many migrants risking the dangerous sea crossing from Tunisia to Europe have drowned that morgues and hospitals in the key launchpad city of Sfax are full, officials said Friday.

Tunisia coastguard
Migrants board a vessel after getting stopped by Tunisian Maritime National Guard at sea during an attempt to get to Italy, near the coast of Sfax, Tunisia, Tuesday, April 18, 2023. AP


"On Tuesday, we had more than 200 bodies, well beyond the capacity of the hospital, which creates a health problem," said Faouzi Masmoudi, justice official in the port city where the central morgue for an area of around a million people is sited.

"There is a problem with large numbers of corpses arriving on the shore. We don't know who they are or what shipwreck they came from -- and the number is increasing."

Tunisia, whose coastline is less than 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, has long been a favoured stepping stone for migrants attempting the perilous sea journey from North Africa to Europe.

Masmoudi said there are funerals "almost every day to reduce the pressure on hospitals".

On April 20, at least 30 people were buried. Days later, many more bodies were recovered at sea.

DNA swabs are taken from each body before burial to help their possible identification by relatives, he said.

According to Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), more than 220 dead and missing have been recorded this year to April 24, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.

More than three-quarters of migrants leaving Tunisia do so from the coast between Sfax and Mahdia, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north, he added.

The number of departures of migrants has intensified after President Kais Saied made a fiery speech on February 21 claiming that illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia.

While many of the migrants come from further south in Africa, Tunisia is also in the grip of a worsening economic crisis that has pushed many of its citizens to take desperate measures in search of better lives abroad.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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