Tunisia strengthens security forces on islands after migrant boat sank

Prime Minister Youssef announced Tuesday the strengthening of security forces on the Kerkennah Islands off Tunisia’s southeastern coast after a migrant boat sank and 58 died.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Khalifa Chibani said Tunisian security forces intercepted eight individuals involved in planning this illegal transporting of migrants.

“Merchants, who manipulate our youth, must be prosecuted to pay their responsibility,” added Chahed.

Kerkennah is known as one of the main illegal gateways to Europe from Tunisia. Since the beginning of this year, about 1,910 Tunisian migrants have reached Italy by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Figures revealed that 9,329 Tunisians attempted to cross the Mediterranean in 2017, with 34 percent intercepted by Tunisian maritime forces, said the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

Besides, Tunisia arrested about 6,000 migrants leaving its coast for Europe in the first five months of the year – a sharp increase from the few hundred prevented in the same period last year, an interior ministry official said on Wednesday.

Human traffickers have increasingly moved operations to Tunisia since a crackdown by the coastguard in neighboring Libya.

Many migrants died when the boat carrying them sank on Sunday in the worst such incident off Tunisia’s coast. The official said the death toll has now risen to 68.

“Since January 1 to the end of May 2018 we arrested about 6,000 migrants at our coasts compared to just a few hundred arrested in the same period last year,” the official said.

 Numbers are usually particularly low during the winter months when sea conditions are tougher.

Most of the people on board that sank on Sunday were Tunisians trying to escape unemployment and an economic crisis that has gripped the North African country since the Revolution.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed fired ten security officials for failing to stop the boat leaving, an official said.

He also dismissed Interior Minister Lotfi Brahem from his post,  without giving any details on the reasons for his dismissal.

It was decided to entrust Minister of Justice Ghazi Jeribi with assuming the duties of the interim Minister of the Interior

In another connection, survivors said the captain had abandoned the boat after it started sinking to escape arrest by the coastguard while some migrants were trying to call authorities.

This year up to May 2, a total of 1,910 Tunisian migrants reached Italy, including 39 women and 307 minors – 293 of whom were unaccompanied – compared to only 231 for the same period in 2017, according to the U.N. migrant agency IOM.

Overall, the number of migrants reaching Italy has fallen sharply since last July, when a major smuggling group in the Libyan coastal city of Sabratha struck a deal to halt departures under Italian pressure and was then forced out in clashes.

 Libya’s EU-backed coastguard has also returned more migrants to Libya after intercepting them at sea.

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