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At least 28 migrants die as boats sink off Tunisia


By CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau

At least 28 migrants have died after their boats sank off the coast of Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, Italian officials say.

In one wreck alone at least 20 migrants died with more than 60 people still missing.

Meanwhile, the Italian coast guard said they coordinated the rescue of 3,300 people from 58 boats in distress in the last 48 hours, according to a statement on Sunday.

Most of the rescues were conducted on boats heading from Tunisia to Lampedusa, the closest Italian island to Africa.

Tunisia has taken over from Libya as a main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

This latest disaster comes in the midst of a campaign of arrests by the Tunisian authorities of undocumented sub-Saharan Africans.

On Saturday, a Tunisian fishing boat brought 19 women and 9 minors to Lampedusa after rescuing them at sea. The Tunisian fishing vessel is now under investigation for abetting illegal immigration.

On the Italian side, under a new decree rescuers must go to a port designated by the Italian central command, and cannot carry out multiple rescues.

A vessel run by street artist Banksy’s charity — The Louise Michel — tweeted that it was detained after it disembarked 180 people rescued from various boats in distress Saturday.

“During the Disembarkation on Lampedusa in the early morning, we were already informed that our ship is being detained due to violation of the new Italian decree. We still await the official statement and we are ready to fight it,” the charity said in a tweet.

While all of the weekend arrivals in Lampedusa were from boats that left Tunisia, the Italian interior ministry says most of those arriving are from sub-Saharan Africa.

According to UN data, at least 12,000 migrants who reached Italy this year set sail from Tunisia, compared with 1,300 in the same period of 2022.

Statistics from the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights, show that Tunisia’s coast guard prevented more than 14,000 migrants setting off in boats during the first three months of this year, compared with 2,900 during the same period last year.

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