October 10, 2017 / 8:58 AM / 9 days ago

Tunisian navy rescues 100 migrants, hours after eight drown

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s navy rescued almost 100 migrants from a sinking boat off its southeast coast late on Monday, authorities said, hours after eight people being smuggled to Europe drowned in the same stretch of water.

The incidents coincided with the launch of joint patrols by the Tunisian and Italian navies to stem migrant flows and carry out search and rescue operations in the area, the Tunisian Defense Ministry said.

Tunisia’s coast has become the launch pad of choice for traffickers transporting migrants from North Africa across the Mediterranean.

Wooden boats packed with migrants, their numbers often swelled by young Tunisians seeking work in Europe, have started landing on secluded Sicilian beaches, often in broad daylight.

Activity via Libya, until recently the busiest country of departure on that route, has declined since July as its coast guard and an armed group in the smuggling hub of Sabratha tightened controls.

The Tunisian Interior Ministry said late on Monday the coast guard pulled 98 Tunisians, including three children, from the sinking vessel near the island of Kerkennah.

Earlier on Monday at least eight people drowned nearby when another boat carrying dozens of migrants collided with a Tunisian navy vessel.

Tunisia has won plaudits from abroad for its transition to democracy since 2011, when an uprising toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. But unemployment remains high, especially among the country’s youth.

Reporting By Tarek Amara; editing by John Stonestreet

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