At least 14 migrants killed as their boats sink off Tunisian coast 

Most occupants of the twin boats that sank were migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, who are facing rising racism in Tunisia following the government’s crackdown against their presence in the country 

March 10, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Migrant deaths off Tunisia coast
Representative Image. (Photo: Adriel Perdomo/EFE)

At least 14 people were killed after their boats drowned off the Tunisian coast on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the Tunisian coast guard said in a statement on Thursday, March 9. Tunisian officials claimed that they were able to rescue at least 54 others who were on board the two boats.  

As per reports, the boats sank hours after leaving Tunisia’s Sfax. Most of those on board were from Sub-Saharan African countries and were headed to Italy in an attempt to migrate to Europe, Agence Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) reported

TAP also reported that the Tunisian coast guard had detained at least 435 “undocumented migrants” on Wednesday night, of whom 426 were from Sub-Saharan African countries, and also thwarted 14 “illegal border crossing attempts.”    

However, migrant aid organizations claimed that Tunisian officials forcefully removed the engines of at least seven boats carrying migrants and let them float in the sea for hours. 

Alarm Phone, an organization that provides support to those attempting to cross the Mediterranean to the EU, tweeted pictures of some ships stranded at sea along with the comments of some of the occupants alleging racism by Tunisian authorities. 

Racism in Tunisia

Migrants from Sub-Saharan African countries are facing increasing instances of racism in Tunisia. In a speech on February 21, President Kais Saied accused Sub-Saharan migrants of flooding the country with the objective of changing its demographic profile and indulging in criminal activities. 

Around 21,000 people of Sub-Saharan origin are documented to be in Tunisia, mostly students or workers doing physical labor, some waiting to cross the sea to Europe.   

While left and progressive forces in Tunisia have opposed the government’s approach toward these migrants, with protests condemning Saied’s utterances as racist and demanding an apology, the government has so far refused to acknowledge these criticisms. The government has instead accused critics of harming “the image and interests of the country.”  

Tunisian authorities have unleashed a crackdown against migrants. A large number of them have also lost their jobs and been forced to leave the country. The number of Sub-Saharan migrants leaving Tunisia has thus surged and most of those leaving are returning to their countries of origin. However, a section of them, in a bid to escape their dire economic and political conditions, have tried to migrate to Europe across the Mediterranean sea.

Strict border control policies followed by European countries have, however, led to migrants being stranded at sea for days, many even dying if their small boats sink. According to the International Organization for Migration, since 2014, more than 26,000 people have either died or are missing in the Mediterranean region after trying to migrate to Europe. 

At least 62 migrants died in a shipwreck off the Italian coast in the last week of February.