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Tunisia says more than 90 migrants intercepted during bid to reach Italy

Published: Updated:

Tunisia’s navy said on Tuesday it had intercepted 93 African irregular migrants after their boat ran into trouble in the Mediterranean Sea during an attempt to reach Italy.

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The defense ministry said the boat carrying “93 migrants of various African nationalities”, including three Tunisians, had broken down 42 kilometers northeast of the coastal city of Sfax on Monday night.

Read more: Tunisia’s coastguards pick up 246 migrants at sea in a single night

They included 37 women and four children, spokesman Mohamed Zekri said in a brief statement.

The navy and coast guard took them “to Sfax fishing port and handed them over to the national guard to carry out the relevant legal measures,” he added.

Tunisia, just a few hundred kilometers from mainland Europe, has long been a launchpad for migrants making desperate clandestine bids to reach Europe.

Those departures peaked in 2011 following the revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but numbers have since dropped significantly.

But, with many Tunisians disillusioned by years of economic crisis and ballooning unemployment, the numbers are ticking up again.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR says a fifth of refugees and migrants arriving in Mediterranean countries this year have been Tunisians.

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said Monday night during a visit to France that the two countries were looking into the causes of clandestine immigration.

They were working on “solidarity between the two shores of the Mediterranean, an approach that could tackle this illegal immigration,” he said in an interview with France 24.