Tunisia intercepts, rescues more than 650 migrants to Europe
Tunisian authorities said on Monday that they intercepted or rescued more than 650 migrants trying to reach Europe by sea at the weekend, the latest of numerous such cases in the past two months.
The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 140 kilometres (less than 90 miles) from Tunisia's east coast.
In total, 657 people were rescued or prevented from trying to cross in 46 separate incidents between Friday and Monday, maritime and military officials said.
The coast guard thwarted 10 attempted crossings overnight, bringing ashore 156 would-be migrants, the National Guard said in a statement Monday.
Two-thirds of them were from sub-Saharan Africa and the rest were Tunisians.
The previous night, the National Guard said it had foiled 11 other attempts, preventing 219 people from migrating, including 113 from sub-Saharan African countries.
Defence ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri meanwhile told AFP that 42 Egyptians who had set sail from neighbouring Libya were rescued Sunday off Kerkennah, central Tunisia, after their boat sank and they took refuge on an oil platform.
After a similar incident in the same zone the previous weekend, 10 Tunisian migrants were feared to have drowned while 20 were saved.
Tunisian authorities also said 15 members of a family from Hammamet in central Tunisia, including five women and four small children, were prevented from heading out to sea on Friday night.
They had paid around 50,000 dinars ($15,900) for a boat, two motors and life jackets, a security source told Mosaique FM radio.
Also on Friday, the National Guard said 225 migrants were intercepted in 23 attempted crossings from different points on Tunisia's coast.
Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.
The two countries are also the gateway for sub-Saharan Africans hoping for a better life by escaping impoverished and strife-torn countries such as Sudan.