Tunisia arrests migrant trafficking kingpin
Tunisia has arrested a man suspected of being the organiser of a ring that smuggled migrants across the Mediterranean, including an attempted crossing in which 20 people drowned, authorities said.
The North African country, which lies just 130 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa, has long been a favoured steppingstone for migrants attempting the perilous sea journey to Europe.
Investigators in Tunisia’s second city of Sfax had “arrested the organiser of clandestine crossings, who was wanted in 24 cases and had been sentenced to 79 years in prison”, the national guard said Thursday on Facebook.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi commended the arrest “of a man suspected of being one of the main traffickers involved in departures from Sfax”, the launchpad for many Europe-bound migrants.
The Tunisian national guard alleged the man was responsible for the deaths of 20 Tunisians who in September embarked on a boat from Chebba, a coastal city north of Sfax, and drowned.
In the first four months of 2023, the number of irregular crossings to Europe through the central Mediterranean soared almost 300 percent compared with 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.