Stranded migrant group to be repatriated

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Tunisia allowed dozens of migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, to disembark after three weeks stranded in the Mediterranean, so they can return to their home countries, the Red Crescent said.

An Egyptian boat rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters last month. Local authorities in the governorate Medinine said its migrant centres were too overcrowded to let them ashore, leaving the vessel stranded off the coastal city Zarzis.

“After they were stranded for three weeks at sea in difficult conditions, Tunisia agreed to dock the ship and migrants accepted to return to their countries in coming days,” Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters.

Among the group who set off from Libya, 64 are from Bangladesh while nine are Egyptians, one is Moroccan and one Sudanese, the Red Crescent said.

All migrants will be deported to their countries, except for the migrant from Sudan who asked for asylum.

“We thank Tunisia’s renewed commitment to life and dignity”, said Lorena Lando, the head of the International Organisation for Migration in Tunisia.

She added it was urgent to put in place a collaborative approach to helping migrants in the Mediterranean.

Neighbouring Libya’s west coast is a frequent departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe by paying human traffickers. Their numbers dropped after an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coastguard.

At least 65 migrants drowned last month when a boat capsized off Tunisia after setting out from Libya.

In the first four months of 2019, 164 people are known to have died on the route, a smaller number but a higher death rate than in previous years, with one dying for every three who reach Europe, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.