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African Migrants Die in Tunisian Mountains

FILE - Tunisian soldiers patrol near the border with Algeria as seen from the area of Mount Chambi, west Tunisia, June 11, 2013.

TUNIS - The bodies of nine migrants from sub-Saharan African countries have been found in western Tunisia, near the border with Algeria, in recent days, a judicial official told AFP on Wednesday.

The bodies have been discovered in the mountains near Haidra, a town in Kasserine province, and authorities have launched an investigation that would include autopsies "to determine the cause of death," said Riadh Nwiwi, spokesman for the Kasserine court.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), a migrant support group, said in a statement that "preliminary information" points to "cold, thirst and fatigue" as the causes of the migrants' deaths.

Nwiwi noted a rise in irregular migration from other parts of Africa across the Algeria-Tunisia border, and specifically in the forested area near Haidra.

FTDES urged Tunisian authorities to provide a "humanitarian response" to the "deadly migration policies of the European Union which has contravened the right to movement of the people of the (Global) South."

Since the start of the year, dozens of migrants have drowned in a series of shipwrecks off Tunisia's shores while trying to reach Europe.

The group denounced "the silence of the Tunisian authorities on the tragedies of migration and the policy of militarization of the borders."

"Migrants travel great distances in hostile environments" to flee conflict, harsh economic conditions and the effects of climate change, said FTDES.

It called for a "reception and orientation system on the Algerian-Tunisian border to ensure basic humanitarian services" along "deadly migratory routes."

In the first four months of 2023, the numbers of irregular crossings into Europe through the central Mediterranean soared almost 300 percent compared to the same period last year, with almost 42,200 entries detected, according to the European Union's border agency Frontex.

It noted "a rise of 1,100 percent compared to last year" in sea journeys from Tunisia alone.