ROME: The bodies of 61 African migrants were recovered after a shipwreck occurred 10 days ago off the coast of Tunisia.
The Tunisian Coast Guard said at least 22 women, one of them pregnant, and four children were among the dead.
Tunisian authorities have launched an investigation, and believe that the death toll could be higher. The Coast Guard believes that the boat had left the city of Sfax, on Tunisia’s coast, aiming to reach Italy.
“We believe that the boat was too full … It has been a massacre,” a Coast Guard spokesman told Italian news agency ANSA.
In April, Italy and Malta declared their seaports “unsafe” due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite that, more boats and dinghies carrying migrants have been reported trying to reach Italy.
Vincent Cochetel, special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said he fears that more migrants will try to make the crossing during the summer.
“Fifty-three percent of migrants and refugees lost their jobs during the COVID-19 restrictions in Tunisia,” he added.
“It is not clear how many will manage to get a job back or will face tougher competition with locals. Despair drives people to risk their lives and smugglers keep lying to them.”
As weather conditions improve, more boats have been departing from North Africa. Authorities in Lampedusa, an Italian island half way between Tunisia and Sicily, have reported more arrivals.
Many of those on board have been transferred by ferry to the Italian mainland to decrease pressure on the island.
According to the UNHCR, attempts to reach the Italian coast from Tunisia increased by 150 percent from January to April this year compared with the same period in 2019.
“We can’t tolerate this massacre anymore. We must act now. Europe must act to stop tragedies like this,” Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Sicily’s capital Palermo, told Arab News.
“We can’t just sit looking at what happens in the Mediterranean. We simply can’t let those tragedies happen anymore.”
Italy’s government has repeatedly called for European cooperation in this regard. “Without a comprehensive European strategy on refugees and migrants, we will never stop this tragedy. Italy cannot be left alone,” Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told Avvenire daily newspaper.