On Monday of last week, the Tunisian coastguard conducted an operation near the port town of Sfax, which is 250km south of Tunis, and intercepted 372 migrants who were trying to leave the country in small, unsafe boats.
The coastguard used speedboats to stop the overloaded vessels, which were in danger of capsizing even in calm waters. The migrants told reporters that they were hoping to reach international waters where they could be rescued and taken to Europe. However, they were returned to Tunisia on a coastguard cutter.
The migrants were from various countries, with many from sub-Saharan West Africa. African migrants in Tunisia have faced discrimination and have been evicted from their homes and jobs since President Kais Saied ordered a crackdown on sub-Saharan African migrants in February. The boats used by the migrants are made in small workshops around Sfax, despite attempts by the police to stop their production.
The coastguard has stopped 13,000 people from leaving illegally by sea in the first quarter of 2023, and they are seeking cooperation with Italy and Malta. Most of the migrants are released after they are brought back to shore, with many planning to attempt the journey again as soon as possible.