Tunisia recovers 901 bodies of drowned migrants off its coast this year

Tunisia recovers 901 bodies of drowned migrants off its coast this year
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Migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa use Tunisia as a departure point to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, where migrants are often met with a deadly fate.
Most of the deceased migrants were foreign, and mostly from sub-Saharan Africa [Getty]

The Tunisian coast guard recovered 901 bodies of drowned migrants off its coast from January 1 to July 20 this year, the country's interior minister, Kamel Feki, said on Wednesday, marking an unprecedented number of victims off the country's coasts.

The North Africa country is facing a record wave of migration this year and frequent catastrophes of the sinking of boats of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa heading to Italian coasts.

Tunisia replaced Libya as the region's main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

Feki told parliament that among 901 bodies found were 36 Tunisians and 267 foreigner migrants, while identities of the rest were unknown.

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Most of the boats carrying migrants depart from the coast of the southern city of Sfax.

Thousands of undocumented migrants have flocked to the coastal city of Sfax in recent months with the goal of setting off for Europe in boats run by human traffickers, leading to an unprecedented migration crisis for Tunisia.

Some 75,065 boat migrants had reached Italy by July 14 against 31,920 in the same period last year, official data showed. More than half left from Tunisia.

The European Union and Tunisia signed in July a "strategic partnership" deal that includes combating human traffickers and tightening sea borders during a sharp increase in boats leaving the North African nation for Europe.