Tunis, Tunisia- (African Boulevard News) – Last Monday, the Tunisian coastguard intercepted 372 migrants off the coast of the port town of Sfax, approximately 250km (200 miles) south of capital Tunis. The migrants were attempting to leave the shores of the North African country in small and unseaworthy boats. This interception is the latest in a series of similar operations carried out by the Tunisian coastguard in recent months.
The coastguard used speedboats to intercept the migrant vessels which were overloaded and at risk of being swamped by even a small wave. These boats are often built to order in small workshops in and around Sfax, and despite police efforts to crack down on their production, it hasn’t stopped.
The migrants who were intercepted told reporters that they had hoped their vessel would carry them into international waters from where they might be rescued and taken to Europe. They were attempting the sea journey from far and wide, with many from Bangladesh and Syria, but the majority on this night were from sub-Saharan West Africa.
Some are fleeing war in their countries, while others are hoping to get jobs or join family in Europe. Many of them spoke of suffering racist abuse in Tunisia. Africans living in Tunisia have come under pressure recently, kicked out of their accommodation and losing their jobs after a wave of racist sentiment against them was inflamed in February when President Kais Saied ordered a crackdown on sub-Saharan African migrants and lashed out at a perceived plot to erase Tunisia’s identity.
Instead of reaching international waters and being rescued, the migrants were brought aboard a coastguard cutter and were later returned to Tunisia. After the migrants are stopped, they are brought aboard the coastguard ships, and their boats are collected later by the authorities.
Most migrants are released as soon as they are brought back to shore, with many hoping to attempt the trip again as soon as possible. Officials say that every night when the seas are calm, scores of overloaded migrant boats set off on a perilous journey.
The Call for Cooperation
The coastguard says it has stopped 13,000 people attempting to depart by sea illegally in the first quarter of 2023. They are calling for close cooperation with neighboring Italy and Malta and say that their work is hindered by several of their ships being out of service for repairs.
The Way Forward
While the situation with migrants leaving Tunisia continues, it is important to address the root causes and find ways to create opportunities for these people in their home countries. Many of them are only leaving because of war, poverty, or persecution, and their goal is to have access to better lives elsewhere.
As the world struggles with the issue of migration, it is crucial that countries work together to find solutions that provide safe pathways for people to migrate and ensure that vulnerable migrants are not exploited on their journey. The Tunisian coastguard’s interception highlights the need for a coordinated approach to address the crisis of migration, which affects millions of people around the world.