At least 65 migrants drowned as boat capsizes off Tunisia

At least 65 migrants have drowned after a boat carrying irregular migrants capsized off the coast of Tunisia, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.

According to the survivors, the group of 75 migrants left the north-western Libyan city of Zuwara on the evening of 9 May 2019 on a large boat. They were later transferred to a smaller boat, which ran into trouble due to strong waves.

The vessel eventually capsized 45 miles off the coast of Sfax, south of Tunis, as it headed towards Italy.

Tunisian fishermen spotted and rescued 16 migrants, and they were eventually brought to shore by the Tunisian Navy. The survivors said they spent eight hours trapped in the cold sea before they were spotted by the fishermen, according to the Tunisian Red Crescent.

“If the Tunisian fishermen hadn’t seen [the migrants], there wouldn’t have been any survivors and we would have never known about this” boat sinking, said Red Crescent official Mongi Slim.

Ahmed Bilal from Bangladesh was one of the survivors. He said he lost a cousin and a relative. “One after one they let go, they departed under the water, one after one,” said the 30-year-old farmer.

Some 65 people drowned in this incident. It is the highest loss of life in similar migrant boat incidents since 117 died or went missing in January. The bodies of three migrants were found and one person has been immediately transferred to hospital.

Most of the passengers were understood to be from Bangladesh, along with several Egyptians, Moroccans, Chadians and other Africans.

“This is a tragic and terrible reminder of the risks still faced by those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Mediterranean.”

In the first three months of 2019, some 15,900 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via the three Mediterranean routes. This is a 17 per cent decrease on the same period in 2018.

TMP – 16/05/2019

Photo credit: Gene Isenko / Shutterstock

Photo caption: Migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.