The Tunisian Maritime National Guard rescued 139 migrants on Tuesday and recovered bodies including those of four children after the sinking of two boats off Sfax in eastern Tunisia, the National Guard told AFP.
According to the Reuters news agency, the death toll was 39 dead on Tuesday.
Left in the night aboard two makeshift boats, these candidates for exile, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa who were trying to reach Europe illegally, were spotted by units of the coast guard.
The bodies of 9 women, 4 children and a man were recovered first, added National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli.
According to him, “the search is still underway to find other survivors and bodies, and the toll could increase”.
The past year has been marked by an increase in such boats in the central Mediterranean, the deadliest migratory route in the world for candidates for exile to Europe.
Boats continue to set sail every day, despite difficult weather conditions.
Between January 1 and February 21, 3,800 migrants arrived illegally in Italy by sea according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including nearly 1,000 via Tunisia and 2,500 via neighboring Libya.
Tunisians are now the first nationality to arrive illegally in Italy with 12,000 Tunisians having disembarked in 2020, according to the UNHCR.
But foreigners are also leaving from the Tunisian coasts.
In February, 22 migrants of different African nationalities who left Sidi Mansour (east), not far from Sfax, were reported missing and 25 rescued by the Tunisian navy about 100 km northwest of the Italian island of Lampedusa.
In January, the Tunisian navy intercepted 50 migrants off its coast, including four Tunisians and sub-Saharan Africans, who also left Sidi Mansour.