Red Crescent: Some 60 migrants sank off Tunisia

Tunisia
File AFP

TUNISIA (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Nearly 60 migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, died when their boat capsized on Friday night off the coast of Tunisia, the Tunisian Red Crescent Society said.

The drowning incident occurred in the Mediterranean Sea, where the operations of the European Union’s Sophia anti-smuggling operation have stopped and most humanitarian aid ships are facing difficulties in reaching them.

“The migrants (who were rescued) made it clear on Thursday evening that they were on board a large vessel carrying about 75 people from Zuwara,” the port said in a statement. Km west of Tripoli.

“They were then taken to a smaller rubber boat that was packed and overturned ten minutes later, around midnight.”

“Migrants said they spent eight hours in the cold water and rescued them from Tunisian fishermen who then called the Tunisian navy,” he said.

For its part, the Tunisian Defense Ministry said three bodies were recovered Friday by military vessels sent to the site. Three ships will continue search operations on Saturday, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

Among the survivors were 14 Bangladeshis, including a minor, a Moroccan and an Egyptian, the Red Crescent said, adding that hope was missing in finding other migrants.

Those Red Crescent survivors reported that the boat that should have gone to Italy was carrying only men, including 51 Bangladeshis, three Egyptians and a number of Moroccans, as well as Chadian and other countries.

“If the Tunisian hunters did not see them, none of them survived, and we probably did not know about this drowning,” Mounji Salim said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it regretted “one of the worst incidents in the Mediterranean in recent months” and called on Friday for increased relief capacity throughout the region, with illegal departures resuming, as the weather improves.

“If we do not act now, it is almost certain that we will see new tragedies in the coming weeks and months,” said Vincent Kouchel, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the Mediterranean.

In early 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed that “for several years the Mediterranean has been the world’s bloodiest waterway for refugees and migrants, with the death rate rising sharply” in 2018.

The number of humanitarian vessels roaming the area is dwindling due to increasing obstacles in the course of its work. At the end of 2018, MSF and SOS, the average non-governmental organization, were forced to stop the operation of their vessel Aquarius.

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