Tunisia recovers 12 bodies after dozens of migrants drown in sea

The African migrants are among about 80 people who went missing after their boat to Europe capsized off Tunisia coast.

    Fishermen pulled four survivors out of the water off the coast of Tunisia [File: Zoubei Souissi/Reuters]
    Fishermen pulled four survivors out of the water off the coast of Tunisia [File: Zoubei Souissi/Reuters]

    Tunisia's coastguard has recovered the bodies of 12 African migrants who drowned when their boat carrying more than 80 people sank after setting off for Europe from neighbouring Libya, the Tunisian Red Crescent has said.

    A boat carrying at least 86 refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Tunisia on Thursday, with most feared drowned. 

    "Twelve bodies were recovered Saturday morning off the coast of southern Tunisia, two of which were women," said Mongi Slim, a Red Crescent official.

    Those found were estimated to have been between 20 and 30 years old, he told AFP news agency.

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    Tunisian fishermen came across the sinking boat and were able to pull four survivors out on Wednesday night, but could not find any of the other passengers.

    One of the four survivors later died in hospital, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday.

    Al Jazeera's Sarah Khairat, reporting on Thursday from a refugee camp in Zarzis, said the four survivors were all men - three from Mali and one from the Ivory Coast - who were brought to the camp.

    At least 65 migrants heading for Europe from Libya drowned last May when their boat capsized off Tunisia.

    Transit hub

    Libya is one of the main transit countries for migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe, though numbers have dropped due to an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan Coast Guard.

    The war-torn country has become a hub for human trafficking rings that often send migrants off to Europe in vessels that are not seaworthy. 

    Between January and June this year, 555 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).

    Last year, there were 924 deaths. The peak came in 2016 when 2,911 people died in the crossing.

    Although the fighting in Libya has made the situation more difficult for people smugglers, international aid officials have warned it could also prompt more Libyans to flee their country.

    Libyans who are picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard are routinely brought back to Libya and detained. The UN has pleaded with Libya's government to free the detainees, some of whom have been locked up for years.

    In May, 108 migrants and refugees were sent to the Tajoura detention centre near Tripoli, which was hit by an air raid on Tuesday night that killed at least 53 people and injured 130, according to UN estimates.

    Dozens of migrants feared dead after boat capsizes off Tunisia

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies