The death toll from several migrant shipwrecks off the Tunisian coast has risen to 17 people, a judicial official has said.
On Saturday, the Tunisian coast guard said four boats carrying 120 African migrants and refugees headed for Italy had sunk off the coast near the city of Sfax.
Another five bodies were recovered on Sunday, adding to 12 found by the coast guard overnight, Mourad Turki, spokesperson for the Sfax courts, told Reuters news agency. The coast guard said 98 people had been rescued.
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The coastline of Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and seeking a better life in Europe.The interior ministry said this week that it had arrested more than 20,000 migrants and refugees off its coast last year. At least 15,000 reached the coast of Italy in 2021.
In recent months, dozens of people have drowned off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of attempted crossings from Tunisia and Libya towards Italy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing in recent years.
Figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that more than 123,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2021, compared with more than 95,000 in 2020.