(Tunis) Twenty-seven migrants from sub-Saharan Africa died or were missing after two shipwrecks on Friday and Saturday off the coast of Tunisia, a spokesman for the court in Sfax, in the center-east of Tunisia, told AFP. country.

These two new accidents bring the toll since the beginning of March to more than a hundred dead or missing in a series of shipwrecks off the coast of Tunisia, according to an AFP count.

According to testimonies collected by the justice, 37 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa had “left the coast north of Sfax on two boats when one was shipwrecked on Friday afternoon”, said Faouzi Masmoudi.

Twenty of them are missing and only “17 who were on the second boat” could be rescued, he added.

Another shipwreck took place on Saturday morning, he told AFP in the early evening, giving an assessment of “four bodies recovered from a beach north of Sfax, three missing and 36 people rescued” for this accident occurred “closer to the coast” than that of Friday.

The spokesperson specified that justice had opened investigations into the circumstances of the accidents.

The objective is also “to find the organizers of these attempted crossings who made them embark on boats made of sheet iron, offering no minimum security conditions at all, but which are cheaper to manufacture than those in wood,” Masmoudi said.

The most recent tragedy was on March 26 when the bodies of 29 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were recovered from three separate shipwrecks off Tunisia, while 11 people were rescued.

On Friday, the National Guard announced that it had rescued or intercepted “14,406 people, including 13,138 from sub-Saharan Africa, the rest being Tunisians”, over the first three months of the year, more than five times the number recorded for the same period of 2022.

The figures for 2023 are “up very sharply because there are many more departures”, National Guard spokesman Houssem Jebabli told AFP.

Almost all of the interceptions and rescues in 2023 took place in the areas of Sfax, the country’s second city, and Mahdia, on the central east coast.

Tunisia, some portions of the coastline of which are less than 150 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, very regularly records attempts by migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan African countries, to leave for Italy.

The departures intensified after a violent speech on February 21 by Tunisian President Kais Saied slamming illegal immigration.

Mr. Saied had claimed that the presence in Tunisia of “hordes” of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa was a source of “violence and crime” and part of a “criminal enterprise” aimed at “changing the demographic composition” of the country. country.

After this speech, a large part of the 21,000 sub-Saharan African nationals officially registered in Tunisia, most of them in an irregular situation, lost their jobs, generally informal, and their housing overnight, as a result of the campaign against the illegals.

Most African migrants arrive in Tunisia and then try to immigrate illegally by sea to Europe.

According to the Italian Interior Ministry, more than 14,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, compared to just over 5,300 during the same period last year, and 4,300 in 2021.