Report. Migrant crossings continue through the winter as bad weather claims more victims. Tunisians represent a growing number of those attempting to reach Europe.

Christmas week shipwreck kills 20 people, mostly women

Winter isn’t stopping the attempts to cross the Mediterranean. Of the 20 bodies recovered Thursday by the Tunisian Coast Guard, 19 belonged to women, four of whom were pregnant. The group, composed mostly of sub-Saharan women plus three Tunisians, was aboard a boat with 37 migrants that got into difficulty, probably due to bad sea conditions off the coast of Sfax.

The Coast Guard and some local fishermen managed to recover the 20 bodies and to rescue four survivors, while the search conducted on Friday by the Tunisian Navy divers braving the high waves and strong winds was unsuccessful.

The Navy and the Coast Guard of Tunisia intervened on December 16 to rescue a boat in difficulty off Sfax which sailed off from the coast of Sidi Mansour toward Italy. Two days earlier, the rescued another 93 migrants who also found themselves in difficulty off the coast of Sfax.

In part because of the heavy economic and social crisis that has been afflicting it for months, Tunisia remains the country from which the largest number of migrants are leaving for Italy, so much so that Tunisians represent almost 39% of all arrivals recorded in 2020.

In August, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese went to Tunis, where she signed an agreement that allows Italy to carry out a greater number of repatriations (up to the beginning of the month, 1,800 have been performed out of a total of 3,400), in exchange for economic aid which, among other things, was set to provide €11 million euros to Tunisia to be used in strengthening border control systems and in the training of Tunisian security forces.

The agreement prompted criticism from the Tunisian NGOs Forum Tunisien Pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES) and Avocats sans Frontieres (ASF), but also from the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) for the lack of transparency with which the news came from the North African country.

In the meantime, the landings continued over Christmas. One hundred migrants disembarked in Cala Madonna, in Lampedusa, after the boat on which they were traveling ran aground on the beach because of rough seas. Another 102 arrived on Christmas night in Pantelleria. A further 12 people arrived in Calabria, in Crotone, who were travelling on board a sailing boat sighted by a patrol vessel of the Finance Police off Capocolonna. The migrants, who were all of Iraqi nationality, were part of two families.

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