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Scores of people missing after boat sinks off Tunisian coast

The boat, holding 127 people on board, was attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea
According to IOM figures, more than 1,000 people hoping to reach Europe have set off from Libya and ended up in Tunisia since January (AFP)

At least 43 people have gone missing off the coast of Tunisia after a boat carrying more than 120 migrants crossing the Mediterranean sank, the Tunisian Red Crescent said on Saturday.

"Eighty-four migrants were rescued and 43 others disappeared after a boat carrying 127 migrants sank off the coast of Zarzis," on Friday night, Mongi Slim of the Red Crescent told AFP.

The vessel had set off from the Libyan coast, he added, citing the accounts of survivors.

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The Tunisian navy rescued 84 undocumented people "of various nationalities" including people from Bangladesh, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea and Sudan, the defence ministry said.

The survivors picked up off Zarzis were aged between three and 40, the ministry said.

It added that the boat had departed the port of Zuwara, in northwestern Libya, on Monday night.

Rising departures

In late June, Tunisia's defence ministry said that it had rescued 178 people trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to reach Europe.

According to figures by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 1,000 people hoping to reach Europe have set off from Libya and ended up in Tunisia since January - with the number of departures continuing to rise.

There had been 11,000 departures from January to April 2021 from Libya, over 70 percent more than in the same period last year, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

The agency said the "deteriorating" conditions of migrants in Libya were pushing many to make the dangerous crossing from the North African coast to Europe.

According to the UN, at least 760 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean between 1 January and 31 May.

Footage taken on Wednesday shows Libyan coastguard vessel shooting at and attempting to ram a smaller boat carrying dozens of people trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa.