Tunisian authorities recover bodies of 15 migrants on beach

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian authorities have recovered the bodies of 15 migrants who died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, the coast guard said Friday.

A coast guard statement said the bodies were found Wednesday and Thursday on beaches near the town of Mahdia, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of the capital, Tunis. It said most appeared to be Tunisians, and others were from sub-Saharan Africa.

Because of its proximity to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, Mahdia is frequently a starting point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to escape poverty, conflict and persecution.

In a separate incident Monday, the coast guard recovered the bodies of eight migrants off Tunisia’s southern port town of Zarzis, near the Libyan border.

The Tunisian Red Crescent said they were part of a group of 18 young Tunisians, mostly aged 16-18, from the Zarzis region who had sailed for Europe on Sept. 26 in a makeshift boat.

Rescuers were still seeking other survivors Friday.

Residents of Zarzis accuse authorities of moving slowly to start the search and rescue operation, and staged a protest this week shouting: “Bring our children back to us.” Demonstrators burnt tires and blocked traffic on the city’s main road.

Faced with bleak economic prospects and a protracted political crisis, Tunisians are increasingly risking their lives in search of a better life in Europe.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, an NGO that closely monitors migration, says 507 Tunisian migrants have died or gone missing so far in 2022 in the Mediterranean.

According to National Guard spokesman Houssameddine Jebabli, the coast guard thwarted more than 1,500 attempts at illegal migration to Italy from January to September 2022, involving entire families including nearly 2,500 children.

Last weekend alone, nearly 200 migrants, including eight children, were intercepted at sea, the defense ministry said.

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