Thirteen Sudanese migrants died on Thursday after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia, while 27 others remain missing, a court spokesperson told AFP.
Farid Ben Jha, the spokesman for the court in the coastal city of Monastir, said only two out of the 42 migrants who were on board the boat survived after leaving from Jebiniana, a small town near Sfax.
He said an investigation was opened, adding that the migrants were likely “exploited in a human trafficking case or in the formation of a criminal group to reach Europe illegally”.
The victims were all asylum seekers from war-torn Sudan who had registered with the United Nations’ refugee agency.
They boarded a fragile metal boat made of scraps hastily welded together, according to the investigation’s first findings.
The search for the missing passengers is still underway.
Tunisia and Libya are the main departure points for thousands of irregular migrants who risk their lives every year in the hopes of reaching better lives in Europe.
During the first 11 months of 2023, Tunisian authorities intercepted 69,963 irregular migrants, more than double the figure for the same period in 2022, according to statistics shared by the National Guard.
Some 2,498 people died or went missing while attempting to cross the central Mediterranean in 2023, a 75 percent increase on the previous year, according to the International Organization for Migration.