Tunisia reports increase in migrant interceptions

Tunisia reports increase in migrant interceptions
Tunisian police intercepting migrant boat (Stock photo0


Tunisia on Sunday reported a 22.5 percent rise in the number of migrants "intercepted on shore or rescued at sea" as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.


The National Guard reported that more than 21,000 people had been prevented from leaving Tunisian shores or had been rescued during the first four months of 2024.


A press statement from the National Guard, which also overseas Coastguard operations, said 21,545 people were intercepted between January 1 and April 30, compared with 17,576 over the same period last year.


It said the interceptions occurred in an equivalent number of operations -- 751 this year and 756 in 2023.


Tunisia and neighbouring Libya have become key departure points for migrants, often from sub-Saharan African countries, who risk perilous Mediterranean Sea journeys in the hopes of a better life in Europe.


Since January 1, the bodies of 291 shipwreck victims have been recovered compared with 572 last year in almost triple the number of operations (1,967 this year against 686 in 2023), the statement said.


The National Guard also said it had prevented 21,462 people from entering Tunisia across its borders with Algeria in the west and Libya in the east, four times the 5,256 number from last year.


The number of alleged smugglers and their accomplices detained more than doubled, with 529 arrests and 261 prosecutions, up from 203 and 121 respectively last year.


Sfax, the North African country's second city, remained the main point of departure for clandestine attempts to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa less than 150 kilometres (90 miles) away.


The National Guard said 19,457 would-be migrants were prevented from making the perilous journey in the first four months of 2024, as opposed to 15,468 last year.


Last year many thousands of people from sub-Saharan countries fleeing poverty and conflict, notably in Sudan, and thousands of Tunisians seeking to escape the country's economic and political crisis attempted to make the crossing.


At Italian instigation, the European Union signed an agreement last summer to provide 255 million euros in financial aid to debt-ridden Tunisia in return for a commitment to curb migrant departures.


According to Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesman for the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights NGO, the state's approach to the problem "is not one of rescue but of interception".


A recent report by the UN's International Organization for Migration said that over the past decade more than 27,000 migrants have died trying to make the crossing, over 3,000 of them in the past year alone.