At least five Tunisian migrants died on Saturday when their boat sailing to Italy capsized off the Tunisian coast, officials said.
“A migrant boat carrying dozens capsized on Saturday off the coast of Monastir … Naval forces rescued 49 Tunisian migrants and recovered five bodies of Tunisian migrants,” a naval official told Reuters.
People traffickers make use of Tunisia’s proximity to the Italian island of Lampedusa to ship migrants there. Tunisian authorities have rescued dozens of people travelling in unsafe boats in the past few weeks.
Most traffickers prefer to operate out of neighbouring Libya to exploit a security vacuum in a country split by a power struggle between two governments.
On Saturday, authorities in Tripoli detained 580 migrants from sub-Saharan countries who had been waiting at a farm for smugglers to ship them to Italy, a security official said.
“We found telecommunication devices like GPS, three Thuraya (satellite) phones, 10 local mobiles, computers and life jackets,” said Abd Al-Naser Azzam, spokesman for a police unit combat ting illegal migration.
A month after nearly 900 migrants drowned in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory, the flow of people desperate to reach a better life in Europe has accelerated as people smugglers take advantage of calmer seas.
Last week, the European Union agreed a naval mission to target gangs smuggling migrants from Libya.