The bodies of 20 migrants trying to reach Europe washed up on the Sfax coast on Tuesday, Tunisian Coast Guard officials reported. The Coast Guard, assisted by the Army, are searching for other passengers from the boat which left Tunisia carrying 53 migrants sometime over the weekend of June 6-7 in an attempt to reach Italy.
“Horrible news coming in from Tunisia,” UNHCR Global Spokesperson for Africa, Middle East and the Mediterranean Charlie Yaxley tweeted in response to the drownings.
“Severe lack of search and rescue capacity on the central Med[iterranean]. More rescue boats, including NGO boats, save lives,” he stressed.
Special Envoy of the UNHCR for the Central Mediterranean Situation Vincent Cochetel said he was, “sad for the lives lost and the affected families” of Tunisia’s latest migrant boat tragedy.
“There are legal alternatives for refugees and migrants in Tunisia. No one should feel so desperate to risk their life. Hope the smugglers will face justice,” Cochetel tweeted on June 9.
The tragedy may have been much worse, if it were not for Tunisian authorities who thwarted dozens of migrants from attempting to cross the Mediterranean last week and seized over $200,000 cash in from suspected migrant smugglers.
The Coast Guard prevented 12 people, all Tunisian citizens, from trying to illegally reach Europe last week. They seized two cars, three motorbikes, three boat moats, fuel, and $7,700 in cash during two separate operations at Zahruni and in the governorates of Tunis and Ariana.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian National Guard stopped four would-be irregular migrants in the Sfax Governorate, where the latest boat capsize took place early on Tuesday. The National Guard also seized $137,000 from three alleged migrant smugglers on June 3.
One of the men arrested admitted smugglers were receiving between $1,050 to $1,500 for each migrant they could get on a boat to Europe. The total combined cash recovered from illegal migration operations in the last week now stands at $233,300.