GP Short Notes # 742, 26 August 2023
The Mediterranean: Continuing Migrant Boat Disasters
On 07 August, BBC reported on a shipwreck near Tunisia’s Kerkennah Islands, with 11 dead and another 44 migrants missing.
On 03 August, two vessels were reported to have sunk near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy’s coast guards rescued around 57 people while 33 were missing. Flavio di Giacomo, spokesperson of the International Organization for Migration, said that the migrants were from Guinea and the Ivory Coast. According to survivors’ testimony, they departed from Sfax, a Tunisian port city, before being capsized and rescued by a commercial boat. He also noted that the vessels were frail and could quickly capsize and disintegrate after setting out to the sea.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 1800 people have died in the Central Mediterranean in 2023. The number of departures increased compared to last year. According to UNHCR, sea arrivals to Italy are 104,808 in 2023 (year-to-date) compared to 49,792 (year-to-date) in 2022.
Who are the migrants?
Tunisia has become the key transit point for migrants to go to Europe, especially Italy, where the migrant population has substantially increased since 2014 (according to organizations such as Human Rights Watch, UNHCR and IOM working with the migrants the numbers are between 20,000 and 50,000).
The biggest group is those from the Ivory Coast, who represent one-third of the total, followed by citizens of Guinea and Mali. According to a report Africa News, these countries have free visa agreements with Tunisia, indicating that many migrants arrived through legal means.
According to Le Monde diplomatique, the immigration status of a vast majority of migrants hailing from Sub-Saharan African countries is irregular. Even those eligible for visas also face troubles because of the bureaucracy. A fine of around USD 6.50 is charged to those who overstay their visa. Thus, the accumulated debt and the monetary need to go either home or to Europe force the migrants to take up blue-collar jobs where they are paid average salaries even 30 per cent less than Tunisians.
What are the reasons for migration?
First, political instability and violence in Tunisia and Sub-Saharan Africa (countries such as Guinea, Sudan, and South Sudan). The migrants often flee due to extreme poverty, unemployment, political persecution, and political instability in their home countries. When they pass through the North African countries, they face unfair treatment and prejudice from the locals, forcing them to embark on the perilous journey across the Sea. Traditionally, Tunisia has been a transit route used by migrants. The recent outbreaks of conflict and the amplifying insecurity in the region have increased the arrival of Sub-Saharan migrants in the country. The government is often hostile to the migrants. Moreover, in February 2023, Kais Saied, Tunisia’s President, delivered a speech in which he claimed that Sub-Saharan migrants threaten the country’s identity, accelerating migration across the Sea. The country is also facing a political upheaval after Saied rewrote the Constitution in 2021 to concentrate power in his hands.
Secondly, the economic crisis in Tunisia. According to the International Organization for Migration, around 1,600 Tunisians crossed the Mediterranean Sea on smugglers’ boats between January and March 2023, compared to 900 from last year (January to March 2022). Apart from the crackdown on migrants, inflation and food shortages plague the country. Tunisia’s debt has reached 90 per cent of its GDP, increasing the risk of default. Saied also refused to endorse an IMF bailout of USD 1.9 billion, adding to donors’ worry that he would not implement the reforms his administration has promised before disbursement. Moreover, Joseph Borrell, EU’s Foreign Policy chief, warned in March 2023 that the political and economic crisis in Tunisia could fuel a wave of migration into Europe.
Where are they migrating from?
According to UNHCR, from January to July 2023, 104,808 people migrated into Italy from Türkiye, Tunisia and Libya, and Algeria via Sea routes. There are ten most common countries of origin. 26 per cent of the migrants are from Guinea and Ivory Coast (13 per cent each). Followed by Egypt (nine per cent), Tunisia and Bangladesh (eight per cent each), Pakistan (seven per cent), Burkina Faso (six per cent), Cameroon and Mali (four per cent each). In 2022 (between January and July), 21 per cent of the migrants were from Egypt; 20 per cent were from Tunisia, followed by 17 per cent from Bangladesh.
Sofia Bettiza and Robert Plummer, “Forty-one migrants die in shipwreck off Lampedusa,” BBC, 09 August 2023
Charlene Anne Rodrigues and Lauren, “Mother and baby among 13 dead after migrant boats sink off Italian coast,” BBC, 07 August 2023
Emma Bubola, “Dozens of Migrants Die After Boat Sinks in Strait of Sicily,” The New York Times, 09 August 2023
“Sub-Saharans are no longer welcome in Tunisia!” Le Monde diplomatique, 07 August 2023
Lauriane Noelle Vofo Kana, “How did Tunisia become a hostile land for sub-saharan African migrants? [Interview],” Africa News, 10 August 2023
Monica Pinna, “Migrant crisis in the Mediterranean: From Tunisia to Italy, who are those fleeing to Europe?,” Euro News, 01 June 2023
Heba Saleh and Amy Kazmin, “Tunisia’s ‘hostile environment’ pushes migrants across Mediterranean,” Financial Times, 04 April 2023
Vivian Yee, “Europe Pushed Tunisia to Keep Migrants Away. The Result Is Harsh.,” The New York Times, 20 July 2023
“Italy Weekly Snapshot - 21 August 2023,” UNHCR, 21 August 2023