At least 41 dead as migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

At least 41 people; including a child; have died after a boat carrying African migrants to Europe sank off Tunisia; the UN refugee agency and International Organization for Migration said on Friday.

“According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams; three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard” following Thursday’s sinking; they said in a joint statement.

“The bodies of 41 people; including at least one child; have so far been retrieved;” the statement said.

Earlier; Ali Ayari; spokesman for the Tunisian coast guard in the eastern city of Sfax; had put the death toll at 20.

He said the bodies of 11 men; eight women and a child were retrieved. Seventeen other people were missing.

Search operations; halted due to bad weather; would continue on Saturday; he added.

The joint UNHCR-IOM statement said all those who perished were from sub-Saharan Africa.

“This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand state-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean; where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year;” it added.

“Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.”

The central Mediterranean is the deadliest route for would-be migrants to Europe; who usually board makeshift vessels for the crossing.

“So far this year; sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020;” the UNHCR-IOM statement said.

At least 1;200 migrants died in the Mediterranean last year; most of them crossing the central part of the sea; according to the United Nations.