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IOM, UNHCR: Latest Mediterranean tragedy underscores need for search and rescue

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The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, are deeply saddened by the latest loss of life in the Central Mediterranean, after two boats capsized off Tunisia’s shores on Tuesday, 9 March.

At least 39 people drowned in a shipwreck off Kerkennah island. One hundred thirty-four survivors, most of them from Côte d’Ivoire, were brought to shore by Tunisia’s coast guard. The rescue operations are still ongoing, hampered yesterday by harsh weather conditions. A second shipwreck took place off the coast of Jebeniana city in Sfax governorate. The boat had 70 persons on board, including four children, who were all taken to shore.

These are the latest in a string of shipwrecks off Tunisia’s coast. IOM and UNHCR work with partners in the country to give emergency assistance and health support to survivors. In 2021, the Tunisian authorities have carried out 21 sea rescue operations – sometimes of boats departing from Libya’s coast.

“The approach adopted by Tunisia shows that it’s not only necessary but possible to guarantee the safety of those rescued, while providing for the health and security of the host communities,” said UNHCR’s Representative in Tunisia, Hanan Hamdan.

“We commend the search and rescue efforts of the Tunisian authorities and will continue to support them in providing urgent humanitarian assistance to those rescued at sea,” added IOM’s Chief of Mission in Tunisia, Azzouz Samri.

Some 190 people have died while crossing the Central Mediterranean in 2021, while some 5,700 others arrived in Italy from North Africa. This is an average of almost three deaths per day.

“The Central Mediterranean continues to claim lives as thousands of people embark on these perilous journeys, whether fleeing extreme poverty, conflict, or in search of a better life,” added Samri. “We continue to call for proactive search and rescue in the most dangerous sea crossing in the world, and the establishment of clear and safe disembarkation for people rescued at sea.”

The agencies stress that prosecuting smuggling groups and traffickers who take advantage of the vulnerabilities of people and put them on risky journeys must be a priority.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


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