Tunisian authorities have apprehended an individual believed to be the mastermind behind a migrant smuggling network responsible for facilitating illegal crossings across the Mediterranean. The network’s activities included a tragic incident where 20 individuals lost their lives during an attempted crossing. Located merely 130 kilometers away from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Tunisia has served as a common starting point for migrants embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe by sea.
Investigators in Tunisia’s second city of Sfax had “arrested the organiser of clandestine crossings, who was wanted in 24 cases and had been sentenced to 79 years in prison”, the national guard said Thursday on Facebook.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi commended the arrest “of a man suspected of being one of the main traffickers involved in departures from Sfax”, the launchpad for many Europe-bound migrants.
The Tunisian national guard alleged the man was responsible for the deaths of 20 Tunisians who in September embarked on a boat from Chebba, a coastal city north of Sfax, and drowned.
In the first four months of 2023, the number of irregular crossings to Europe through the central Mediterranean soared almost 300 percent compared with the same period last year, with almost 42,200 entries detected, according to the European Union’s border agency Frontex.”Sea Journeys from Tunisia Witness 1,100% Increase Compared to Last Year”.
Migrant Flow from Tunisia Declines Amidst Weather Conditions, National Guard Reports
Recent weather conditions in the Mediterranean have resulted in a reduction in the number of migrants departing from Tunisia. The national guard stated that they intercepted or rescued a total of 14,406 migrants during the first three months of 2023. Among them, approximately 1,200 were Tunisians, while the remainder originated from various other African countries.
The influx of attempted crossings has witnessed an increase, particularly among migrants from sub-Saharan African nations, following a passionate speech by President Kais Saied on February 21, where he expressed concerns about illegal immigration posing a demographic threat to Tunisia.
Tunisia itself is currently facing a prolonged socio-economic crisis characterized by soaring inflation and persistent unemployment rates. These challenges have driven some of its citizens to seek better opportunities and livelihoods abroad.