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Body of toddler found by Tunisian coastguards after sinking of migrant boat

A boat carrying migrants heading for Italy from the Tunisian port of Sfax, June 1, 2023
A boat carrying migrants heading for Italy from the Tunisian port of Sfax, June 1, 2023 Copyright Pau de la Calle/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Pau de la Calle/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AFP
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Tunisian coastguards found the body of a toddler on Friday, two days after two boats operated by people smugglers sank off the coast. Forty people, including five other children and the girl's mother, are still missing.

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The Tunisian coast guard recovered the body of a toddler on Friday after a boat carrying illegal African migrants sank off the country’s coast.

The little girl, wearing pink overalls and a grey woollen cap, was found in the waters off the town of Sfax between the shore and the island of Kerkennah.

The coastguard estimated that the child could be of Cameroonian nationality, as more than 200 migrants from this country had been rescued off the coast of Sfax in the last two days.

Mother is missing

The child's mother is missing, according to the same source.

The Cameroonian embassy in Tunis was unable to confirm this information.

Faouzi Masmoudi, public prosecutor and spokesman for the Sfax court, told AFP that two boats carrying illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa sank off the city's coast on Wednesday.

Six people died in the first sinking, while 39 migrants were rescued. Twelve passengers from the second boat were rescued, while 41 others, including six children, are still missing, according to the same source.

“The bodies of five of these children have since been recovered”, said the coast guard official, adding that a Malian and a Senegalese were among them, while the nationalities of the three others, including the girl rescued on Friday, were not yet known.

Starting point for illegal crossings to Italy

Sfax, Tunisia's second-largest city, is the starting point for a large number of illegal migrant crossings to Italy.

Parts of Tunisian territory are less than 150 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, and attempts at clandestine migration by people from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as many Tunisians, are regularly recorded.

Migrants arriving in Italy this week reported paying between 2,000 and 6,000 Tunisian dinars (600 to 1800 euros) each to cross the Mediterranean.

The departure of African migrants from Tunisia intensified after President Kais Saied made a speech on February 21, denouncing illegal immigration as a demographic threat to his country.

Tunisia is going through a serious politico-economic crisis, which is also driving many Tunisians to try to reach Europe clandestinely by sea, risking their lives.

On May 25, the Tunisian National Guard announced the arrest of a major smuggler already sentenced to a total of 79 years in prison, accused of organising a departure of Tunisian migrants which ended in a shipwreck and 20 deaths.

WARNING: This clip contains footage some might find upsetting.

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