More than 23 migrants on boat bound for Italy are missing, Tunisian officials say

18 May 2024, 13:18 | Updated: 18 May 2024, 16:23

About 23 migrants are missing after a boat set off from Tunisia in the direction of Italy, the North African country's national guard has said.

The national guard said it had deployed floating units and had informed the navy to help in the search for the missing people.

Tunisia has been grappling with a severe migration crisis due to an influx of people from other countries in Africa and the Middle East seeking to migrate to Europe in boats.

It has replaced Libya as a main departure point for people trying to reach the West.

Tunisia has been cracking down on migrants as part of a deal worth more than €1bn (£855,870) with the EU as the 27-member bloc tries to tackle the ongoing issue of migration.

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The issue has been politically divisive among the bloc's member states ever since more than a million people arrived on European shores back in 2015.

The EU's deal with Tunisia includes assistance to better police the border and prevent migrants without papers from reaching Europe.

The number of migrants reaching Italy in 2024 fell by two-thirds, compared to the same point last year, according to figures from Italy's Interior Ministry on 8 May.

But critics have said the measures have been detrimental to the tens of thousands of migrants trapped in the country.

Tensions have been rising in Tunisia over migrant arrivals. At the start of this month, several activists in the country were apprehended, accused of financial crimes stemming from providing aid to migrants.

More than 80 migrants were also arrested in Tunis after clashes with law enforcement during the clearance of encampments in the capital that the authorities said were "disturbing the peace," according to Radio Mosaïque.

Hundreds of migrants had camped near the headquarters of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, many of them demanding the agencies resettle them outside of Tunisia.

Law enforcement used heavy machinery to raze their tents and then bused them outside of the city to "an unknown destination," said Ben Amor from FTDES.

On Thursday, a majority of EU members called for more agreements with countries where migrants depart from or travel through to get to Europe, saying the EU needs to think outside the box to tackle irregular migration into the 27-member bloc.

It came a day after the European Union endorsed sweeping reforms to the bloc's asylum system as campaigning for Europe-wide elections next month gathers pace, with migration expected to be a key issue.

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum lays out rules for EU members to handle people trying to enter without authorisation, from how to screen them to establish whether they qualify for protection to deporting them if they are not allowed to stay.

However, the vast reform package will only enter force in 2026, bringing no immediate fix to an issue that has fuelled one of the EU's biggest political crises, dividing nations over who should take responsibility for migrants when they arrive and whether other countries should be obligated to help.

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