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Nine migrants drown off Tunisia: ministry

Tunis: Nine migrants drowned on Monday after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia during a bid to reach Europe, the defense ministry said.

The bodies of the migrants, “citizens of various African countries”, were recovered by navy and coast guard patrols off Al-Mahdia province on the Mediterranean coast. Nine other passengers were rescued, the ministry said in a statement.

Citing survivors, it said the boat had set out on Sunday night from the port city of Sfax “with the intention of illegally crossing” to Europe. Italy is a major destination for migrants fleeing to European territory by boat from Tunisia and Libya, on what rights groups say is the world’s deadliest migration route.

Such departures have surged since revolts in both countries toppled their respective leaders in 2011.

While many of the migrants are from sub-Saharan Africa, Tunisians have increasingly also set out on dangerous journeys in search of better lives.

The North African country’s FTDES rights group says that in the first nine months of 2021, the coast guard intercepted some 19,500 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says around 1,300 migrants went missing or drowned last year in the Mediterranean.