Tunisia rescues hundreds of boat migrants

More than 300 migrants were heading toward Italian coast when boat broke down off Tunisian coast.

Four of the rescued migrants, including a pregnant woman, were being treated in hospital [AFP/Getty Images]
Four of the rescued migrants, including a pregnant woman, were being treated in hospital [AFP/Getty Images]

Tunisia’s navy has rescued 356 migrants, including a two-month-old baby girl, off the country’s southeastern coast near Ben Guerdane, the Red Crescent has said.

Ammar Lamloum, a Red Crescent official, told the AFP news agency that the group of migrants, mainly Africans, had been trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa when they were rescued on Wednesday.

“They are now at the port in Ben Guerdane,” he said.

Tunisian and Italian authorities have been at the forefront of rescue efforts for a flood of mainly African migrants fleeing Libya and bound for Europe on unseaworthy boats that run into trouble.

Four of the rescued migrants, including a pregnant woman, were being treated in hospital, Lamloum said, adding 38 women and seven children had been on the boat.

He said the migrants, who as well as sub-Saharan Africans included some Syrians, Moroccans and Egyptians, had left Libya aboard the makeshift vessel, but it had broken down off the Tunisian coast.

“A lot of people who have been rescued and I have spoken to will be pleased that they were rescued and didn’t end up drowning like many others have done in the Mediterranean Sea,” said Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis.

“But once that euphoria is over, they will realise that they are back where they started, back in Africa.

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In April and May, Tunisian vessels rescued more than 450 migrants trying to make the dangerous crossing.

Libya has a coastline of 1,770 km and has long been a stepping stone for Africans seeking a better life in Europe.

Most head for the Italian island of Lampedusa which lies about 300 km from Libyan shores.

People smugglers, who have operated in Libya for years, have increased their lucrative trade, feeding on the political divisions and lawlessness that have gripped the country since the end of its 2011 uprising.

On April 19, about 750 migrants were killed when their trawler sank between Libya and southern Italy, sparking global outrage and demands for action.

The number of migrants entering the EU illegally in 2014 almost tripled to 276,000, according to European Union border agency Frontex, nearly 220,000 of them arriving via the Mediterranean.

The International Organisation for Migration said in April that about 1,750 migrants had already died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year, 30 times more than during the same period in 2014.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera


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