An individual believed to be the leader of a ring that trafficked migrants across the Mediterranean, including an attempt at a crossing in which 20 people perished, has been detained in Tunisia, according to officials.
The North African nation has long been a preferred starting point for migrants making the treacherous sea trek to Europe. It is only 130 kilometers from the Italian Island of Lampedusa.
The national guard announced on Facebook on Thursday that authorities in Sfax, Tunisia’s second city, had “arrested the organizer of clandestine crossings, who is wanted in 24 cases and had been sentenced to 79 years in prison.”
The arrest “of a man suspected of being one of the main traffickers involved in departures from Sfax,” the departure point for many migrants traveling to Europe, was praised by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi.
The individual was accused by the Tunisian national guard of being behind the drowning deaths of 20 Tunisians who boarded a boat from Chebba, a seaside city north of Sfax, in September.
According to Frontex, the border agency of the European Union, the number of unauthorized entrances into Europe across the central Mediterranean increased by about 300% in the first four months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2018. about 42,200 entries were discovered.
In terms of sea travel, it found “an increase of 1,100% compared to last year” for Tunisia alone.
The flow of migrants from Tunisia has decreased recently, nevertheless, as a result of the Mediterranean’s weather.
In the first three months of 2023, the national guard claimed to have stopped or saved 14,406 migrants, with just over 1,200 of them being Tunisians and the remainder hailing from other regions of Africa.
Since President Kais Saied gave an impassioned speech on February 21 alleging that illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia, attempts to cross have increased, especially by migrants from sub-Saharan African nations.
With skyrocketing inflation and consistently high unemployment, Tunisia itself is experiencing a protracted socio-economic crisis that is driving some of its residents to leave the country in search of a better life elsewhere.