TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia has allowed dozens of migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, to disembark after three weeks stranded in the Mediterranean, so that they can return to their home countries, the Red Crescent said on Wednesday.
An Egyptian boat rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters last month. But local authorities in the governorate of Medinine said its migrant centers were too overcrowded to let them ashore, leaving the vessel stranded 25 km off the coastal city of Zarzis.
“After they were stranded for three weeks at sea in difficult conditions, Tunisia agreed to dock the ship, and migrants accepted to return to their countries in coming days,” Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters.
Among the group who set off from Libya, 64 are from Bangladesh while nine are Egyptians, one is Moroccan and one Sudanese, the Red Crescent said.
All migrants will immediately be deported to their countries, except for the migrant from Sudan who has asked for asylum.
“We thank Tunisia’s renewed commitment to life and dignity”, said Lorena Lando, the head of the International Organization for Migration in Tunisia.
She added that it is urgent to put in place a collaborative approach to helping migrants in the Mediterranean.
Neighboring Libya’s west coast is a frequent departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe by paying human traffickers. But their numbers have dropped after an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coastguard.
At least 65 migrants drowned last month when their boat capsized off Tunisia after setting out from Libya.
In the first four months of 2019, 164 people are known to have died on the route, a smaller number but a higher death rate than in previous years, with one dying for every three who reach European shores, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.
Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Hugh Lawson