Tunisia’s navy rescued more than 350 illegal migrants off its coast and was searching for hundreds more on Wednesday after they tried to sail from neighbouring Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the local Red Cross said.
Boat smugglers often use Tunisia’s proximity to the Italian coast to ship migrants there. Tunisian authorities have rescued dozens of people travelling in unsafe boats in recent months.
“Naval forces have rescued at least 350 clandestine migrants off the coast near Ben Guerdane in an old boat that left from Libya,” local Red Cross representative Abd el Karim Rguiyi told Reuters. “Among them are Syrians and families, Africans. Authorities are looking to save around 300 more.”
Ben Guerdane is a coastal town just across the border from Libya and not far from the tourist island resort of Djerba.
The conflict in Libya between two rival governments and their armed forces has fomented a breakdown of order that smugglers have been quick to exploit to try to send thousands of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean to mainland Europe.
European leaders are increasingly concerned that Libya will become a failed state if the rival factions fail to accept a U.N.-sponsored peace deal.