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Massinissa Benlakehal

Tunisia arrests 50 migrants headed for Europe

The would-be migrants were caught in Tunis over the weekend [Archive image: Getty]

Date of publication: 22 February, 2018

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Fifty teenagers attempting to flee Tunisia for Europe's southern shores were captured over the weekend.
Fifty teenagers were arrested this weekend in Tunisia for allegedly attempting to illegally migrate to Europe's southern shores, the ministry of interior said. 

The group was arrested on Saturday night, while trying to access boats berthing in the Tunis' La Goulette district harbour.

The young people, aged from 13 to 17, are from Bizerte, Kairouan, Jendouba and Tunis, according to the ministry. They had allegedly planned to sneak onto a merchant ship moored in the port in order to reach Europe.

Following "due legal process", the teenagers will be returned to their parents, the ministry said. 

Concerns have risen as the number of young Tunisians leaving their country to reach Europe's coasts has increased as they flee a lack of opportunity in their home areas. 

Mounib Baccari is a member of Alarmphone Tunisia, an activist network and civil society movement which has supported rescue operations since 2014.

"The main reason behind these departures are economic," Mounib told The New Arab. Young people are not satisfied by the country's political and economic change operated since the revolution. 

"In the country's interior regions, young people are disadvantaged and haven't obtained any advantage since the revolution. Their lives became a bit more unbearable, that is why they try to migrate to Italy at the risk of losing their lives," he argues.  

The North African country says it has been actively fighting illegal migration during the past two years. 

Since the beginning of 2018, authorities have announced the arrest of 340 people while trying to cross to Italy by sea.  

In 2017, Tunisian security forces managed to intercept 8,838 people, including Tunisian nationals and foreigners, as they attempted to illegally leave the country by sea, Interior Ministe Lotfi Braham was quoted as saying.

Authorities have also arrested more than 120 smugglers, according to Braham.

Young people returned from Italy to Tunisia, following signed agreements, are not placed under arrest, Mounib explains.

Once returned to Tunisia, these young people are subject to a fine of 200 Tunisian dinars ($80), according to the country's law, he says.

"All those I discussed with didn't go under this process and haven't paid any fine or been arrested, they've just returned to their homes," he says. 

Last October, the mayors of Lampedusa and Pozzallo, seen as the first stepping stone for migrants trying to reach Europe illegally, have expressed concern that these youths could include criminals and jihadists.

According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), a UN agency, more than 111,000 people have landed safely in Italy after departing from North Africa, while 2,639 others have died at sea.

The data collected by IOM in Italy showed the number of migrants arriving by sea to Italy from Tunisia alone was 6,151 migrants (5,455 men, 135 women, 561 children).  Most departed during the months of September, October and November 2017.

According to figures from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), those deported and returned to Tunisia number between 1560 and 2190 people.

European Union member countries are struggling to deliver strategies able to prevent deaths as to well as help minimise illegal migration.

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