At least two people have died and 14 are missing after a boat filled with migrants hoping to reach Europe capsized off the coast of Tunisia.
Tunisia’s national guard spokesman, Houssameddine Jbabli, said authorities rescued nine people from a boat, recovered two bodies and are searching for 14 missing passengers near the city of Sfax.
He said Tunisian coastguard patrols have detained 192 people and stopped 10 boats bound for Europe over the last two days. All those detained were Tunisian, except for three Iraqis.
The stepped-up efforts against illegal migration came as Tunisia mobilised more than 100,000 security agents around the country for Sunday’s presidential election.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean a rescue ship pulled 109 people from two flimsy boats off the coast of Libya within hours of each other.
The number of people seeking international protection in 30 European countries rose by a monthly 26% in July, according to figures from the European Union’s asylum office.
The European total for the year so far is about 400,500, higher than the same period last year but still much lower than 2015-2016, when well over a million migrants entered Europe, most of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.
With Europe’s policy towards migrants in flux, the Ocean Viking went out for another search and rescue mission off Libya after disembarking 82 people on the small Italian island of Lampedusa.
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after setting sail, the crew of the humanitarian rescue ship spotted a small wooden boat with 48 people on board. Among the passengers were five women and nine children, including a newborn.
Within hours, a spotter plane alerted them to a second boat, this one made of blue plastic, with 61 people on board. The Ocean Viking has a capacity of about 300.
North Africa is both a source of migrants and a transit point for other migrants seeking to reach Europe. Once there, their future is uncertain as governments argue over how to handle the newcomers. Many hoping to move northward from Italy and Spain end up in tents, makeshift lean-tos or shelters.