Tunisian authorities announced on Friday they have rescued more than 14,000 illegal migrants attempting to reach Europe during the first quarter of 2023.
The Tunisian National Guard said on Friday that from January 1 to March 31, 2023, it thwarted 501 operations to cross the Mediterranea and rescued 14,406 migrants, including 13,138 from sub-Saharan African countries.
The others were Tunisians, it added.
Hossam El-Din El-Jababli, a spokesman for the National Guard, told AFP that these figures are fivefold higher compared to the first quarter of 2022 when “2,532 people were rescued in 172 operations.”
According to Jababli, 1,657 out of them were from sub-Saharan Africa.
The Coast Guard in the central region, which covers the areas of Sfax and Mahdia, thwarted during the first quarter of 2023 388 attempts to illegally cross the sea and rescued 13,259.
The Coast Guards arrested 63 people and seized 135 boats and 12 vehicles used in the illegal operations.
Some Tunisian shores are less than 150 km away from Lampedusa Island and often witness attempts by illegal migrants, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, to reach Italy.
Dozens of migrants drowned in a string of incidents in March.
On Feb. 21, President Kais Saied spoke of "hordes of illegal migrants" whose presence in Tunisia he called a source of "violence and crimes” with the aim of “changing Tunisia’s demographic composition”.
Hundreds of migrants were deported by their embassies, following Saied’s remarks, but many expressed concerns about returning home and called on the UN to organize flights to safe third countries.
According to the Italian interior ministry, more than 14,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, compared to over 5,300 during the same period last year and 4,300 in 2021.