African migrants die amid Euro-backlash

Authorities in Tunisia have recovered some 150 bodies of more than 250 African migrants who went missing after their over-crowded boat capsized in the Mediterranean earlier this week, the International Organization for Migration said in Geneva on June 4. The migrants were reportedly on their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa from Libya when their vessel ran aground and capsized some 19 nautical miles off Tunisia’s Kerkennah islands. Survivors say there were more than 800 people on board when the accident occurred. Tunisia’s coast guard and army managed to rescue about 570 from the ill-fated vessel. (RTT, June 3)

The European Union’s paramount human rights body, the Council of Europe, has meanwhile called for an inquiry into the deaths of 61 migrants whose boat apparently ran into trouble en route to Lampedusa in March, stating that an evident failure of military units to launch any attempt to rescue them marked a “dark day” for the continent. (The Guardian, May 9)

Amidst a growing refugee crisis, Italy and France asked the European Union to revise the Schengen border treaty that permits passport-free travel through Europe to take into account “exceptional” situations. France has harshly criticized Italy for granting temporary residency permits to some 20,000 Tunisian migrants who have arrived since the North African nation erupted into revolution in January. Most of the Tunisians want eventually to reach France, the nation’s former colonial ruler, where many have relatives. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said they had signed a joint letter to the EU during a summit and had appointed officials to work on the issue. (AP, April 26)

Last month, five were killed when aid ship attempting to evacuate foreign nationals was shelled by Qaddafi-loyalist forces in Misrata, Libya. Thousands of African migrant workers who have fled Libya are languishing in refugee camps in Tunisia.

See our last posts on the Arab revolutions, the Maghreb and the politics of European immigration.

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