Tunisian authorities have recovered the bodies of 17 migrants after four boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea heading for Europe capsized, a court official said on Sunday.
“The makeshift boats were in a bad condition” and had set sail overnight Friday to Saturday from the Mediterranean port city of Sfax, said Mourad Turki, spokesman for the court there.
The victims included a woman and “at least one baby”, he said, adding that he feared the death toll could rise.
Survivors have said “there were between 30 and 32 people on board each boat”, said Turki.
The majority of those who attempted the latest deadly crossing were sub-Saharan Africans, including citizens of Ivory Coast, Mali and Somalia, he added.
Tunisia and neighbouring Libya are key departure points for migrants seeking to reach European shores, often in vessels that are barely seaworthy.
The Italian island of Lampedusa is only about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Tunisia’s coast.
Libyan authorities on Sunday arrested 542 would-be migrants preparing to depart for Europe in inflatable boats, a security source said.
An AFP photographer said most were originally from Bangladesh.
The International Organization for Migration has said that nearly 2,000 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2021, compared to 1,401 the previous year.
It is the world’s deadliest migration route, but people hoping to build a better life in Europe increasingly risk it.
On Saturday, an overloaded migrant boat capsized off north Lebanon with a least six people dead, including a little girl.
The boat carried nearly 60 people and Lebanese naval forces were able to rescue 48 of them, the military has said.
Lebanon is in the grips of an unprecedented financial crisis, with the currency losing more than 90 percent of its value and the majority of the population living below the poverty line.