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Tunisia Coastguard 'Rescues' 194 Migrants


FILE - Migrants sit on the deck after being rescued by the Spanish NGO Open Arms lifeguards near Tunisia, Mediterranean sea, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Tunisia's defense ministry said Tuesday that it intercepted nearly 200 migrants attempting to reach Europe northwards through the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend.

"Coast guard patrols rescued 194 illegal migrants (118 Tunisians and 76 of other African nationalities) over the weekend," it said in a statement.

The interception of migrants took place in nine separate operations off the southern and north-eastern coast.

The North African country has a long Mediterranean coast, in places just 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, making it a magnet for people from across Africa seeking refuge in Europe.

More than 22,500 migrants have been intercepted off the Tunisian coast since the start of the year, according to official figures, with around half of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

Tunisians, who themselves have long battled an economic crisis that has left a third of the 12 million-strong population in poverty, are among many of those attempting the risky journey.

Favorable weather from spring to early autumn sees a rise in illegal attempts to reach Italy, but many of the attempts are in unreliable boats, often leading to tragedy.

According to EU border agency Frontex, between January and July more than 42,500 migrants used the central Mediterranean route — the world's most deadly.

That is an increase of 44% compared with the first seven months of 2021.

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