TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Eight bodies of migrants have been recovered over the past two days off the coast of the Tunisian port city of Sfax after their boats sank trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea toward Europe, according to Sfax court’s spokesperson.
Faouzi Masmoudi, the spokesperson, said on Sunday that civil protection rescuers and coast guards are finding migrants’ bodies almost every day on the beaches of Sfax, washed up by the waves of a very rough sea in recent days.
The comments come as dozens of migrants were dramatically rescued by Italy on Sunday as they foundered in the sea or clung to a rocky reef after three boats launched by smugglers from northern Africa shipwrecked in rough waters in separate incidents over the weekend.
Tunisian authorities estimate that some 17,000 sub-Saharan people are concentrated in the Sfax area, which is the starting point for most attempts to cross to Italy, some 190 kilometers (118 miles) away, and to some other parts of Europe.
On Thursday, National Guard spokesperson Houssameddine Jbabli reported that four bodies had been recovered by the coastguard off Mahdia, another port city north of Sfax, as three boats carrying a total of 176 illegal Tunisian and sub-Saharan migrants were intercepted.
Jbabli told public television Wataniya 1 that several migrants attacked the coastguard units, using knives and Molotov cocktails, as they were trying to bring them back to a Tunisian port aboard a frigate. Navy reinforcements supported by a military helicopter were needed to bring the situation under control, he added.
In an interview on Wednesday with the Associated Press, Interior Minister Kamel Fekih said 901 bodies of migrants have been recovered by the Tunisian coastguard this year through July 20.
Fekih conceded that small groups of sub-Saharan migrants trying to enter the country are pushed back into the desert border areas with Libya and Algeria, but labeled as “false allegations” claims by the U.N., humanitarian groups and migrants themselves of mistreatment.