Many illegal immigrants risk their
lives on route to Europe

The incident occurred off the fishing port of Sidi Daoud, on Tunisia’s north-eastern coast – 200 km from Italy.

Tunisia’s official news agency, TAP, reported that the coastguard and navy rescued 35 people from the vessel. They are currently searching for more survivors.

But it remains to be known how many people were on the ship.

Among the survivors – from Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Morocco, Somalia and Tunisia – several said they had paid Libyan smugglers for their passage.

Tunisian and Libyan coasts are popular departing points for many illegal immigrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa as they desperately try to start new lives in Europe.

On 20 June, a boat packed with hundreds of would-be African immigrants sank off the city of Sfax on Tunisia's eastern coast.  Only 41 of an estimated 250 on board are believed to have survived.

Since mid-June, an estimated 1,000 illegal immigrants have arrived on the shores of Italy – despite a new immigration law passed in July 2002 allowing for the deportation of people without proper immigration papers.

Rome has also negotiated agreements with countries of departure, such as Tunisia, and was said to be holding talks on the matter with Libya.

But Rome's tightening of laws are showing signs of success. According to the interior ministry, between 1 January and 11 June of this year, 5,200 people arrived in Italy – compared with 10,300 in the same period last year.