16 Dead, Dozens Missing In Shipwrecks Off Tunisia, Western Sahara

Sixteen migrants have died in shipwrecks off the coasts of Tunisia and Western Sahara, officials said Monday, as North Africa faces a spike in Europe-bound sea crossings

Much of the North African coast has become a major gateway for irregular migrants and asylum seekers primarily from other parts of the continent, attempting perilous voyages in often rickety boats in the hopes of a better life.

At least 11 migrants died in a shipwreck off the coast of Tunisia’s second city of Sfax, said local court spokesman Faouzi Masmoudi, revising an earlier toll of four fatalities.

Another 44 are missing while two others were rescued from the boat that had 57 people on board, all of them from sub-Saharan African countries, Masmoudi added.

Survivors of the sinking, near Tunisia’s Kerkennah Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, said the makeshift boat had departed over the weekend from a beach north of the coastal city of Sfax.

Masmoudi told AFP coastguard units were searching for more survivors.

The distance between Sfax and Italy’s Lampedusa island is only about 130 kilometres (80 miles).

Authorities in Morocco meanwhile said the bodies of five migrants, all from Senegal, had been recovered while 189 had been rescued after their boat capsized off Western Sahara.

The five bodies as well as 11 migrants in “critical condition” were transferred to a hospital in Dakhla, the disputed Western Sahara’s second city on the Atlantic coast, a military source told Rabat’s state-owned MAP news agency

According to the source, the boat had embarked from “a country located south of the kingdom” and was headed towards Spain’s Canary Islands before being discovered off the coast of Guerguart, just north of Mauritania.

It was in a “difficult situation”, the source added.

The migrants who were rescued, including at least one woman, were taken to Dakhla on Sunday and handed over to Moroccan authorities, according to the source.

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