Over 650 migrants rescued, some intercepted off Tunisia

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More than 650 migrants, including Egyptians from Libya, were rescued at sea or intercepted this weekend by Tunisian authorities as they planned to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, official sources said Monday.

A total of 657 people, including a family of Tunisians with women and children, were rescued or prevented from leaving between Friday and Monday in 46 different emigration attempts, according to information provided by maritime and military authorities.

Between Sunday to Monday night, "units of the maritime guard of the north, center, and south coast have managed to thwart 10 attempts to cross the border (maritime to Italy, editor's note) and rescued 156 people," said the National Guard in a statement.

Among these 156 migrants, the authorities identified 102 nationals of sub-Saharan African countries, the other 54 being Tunisians.

The previous night, the National Guard said it had "foiled 11 attempts to emigrate 219 migrants from the coast of central and southern Tunisia," including 113 sub-Saharan Africans and the other half Tunisians. The authorities said they had seized 12 engines and 7 boats, without specifying the condition of the boats. 

For its part, the military navy has "rescued 42 Egyptians", Sunday, in front of the archipelago of Kerkennah (central-east), left the previous night from the Libyan coast, said AFP Mohamed Zekri, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

After the sinking of their boat, they had taken refuge on an oil platform southeast of the archipelago. 

- Tunisia and Libya in crisis -

In addition, on Friday night, the security forces prevented an attempt to leave Hammamet (central-eastern Tunisia) by a family of 15 people from Kairouan (central Tunisia), including five women and four young children.

According to a security source interviewed Monday by the radio Mosaic FM, they had paid about 50,000 dinars (15,000 euros) to get a boat, two engines and life jackets.

The same night, the National Guard said to have intercepted 225 migrants in 23 different attempts from different points of the Tunisian coast, without specifying the origin of these candidates for emigration.

Tunisia is going through a serious political and economic crisis and now has four million poor people. Libya has been in chaos since 2011, with militias managing the juicy traffic of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

In spring and summer, with the help of milder weather, attempts to emigrate illegally to Europe tend to increase. 

Italy, whose coastline is only 200 km from the Tunisian coastline, is one of the main entry points for migrants from North Africa.

They arrive mainly from Tunisia and Libya, two border countries from which departures have started to increase again in the last two years, after a slowdown during the Covid epidemic.

According to the European agency Frontex, the central Mediterranean route was used by more than 42,500 migrants between January and July, a 44 percent increase compared to the first seven months of 2021.

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