WED 19 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jun 7, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Tunisia’s PM fires interior minister over shipwreck
TUNIS: Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed Wednesday fired Interior Minister Lotfi Brahem, a government statement said, after one of the worst migrant boat accidents in recent years. The boat packed with some 180 migrants sank Sunday off Tunisia’s coast, killing at least 112 people, according to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.

The statement gave no reason for the sacking, but a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Chahed fired the interior minister for failing to stop the boat and illegal boat migration in general.” Brahem will be replaced by Justice Minister Ghazi Jribi, it said.

Earlier Wednesday, Brahem said a “preliminary investigation” had shown that officials had “directly or indirectly” failed to carry out their duties. He announced late Tuesday the firing of 10 people, among them national guard officials based in Sfax and others from the maritime unit in Kerkennah for failing to stop the boat, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Survivors said the captain had abandoned the boat after it started sinking to escape arrest by the coastguard while some migrants were trying to call authorities. Most of the people on board the boat that sank Sunday were Tunisians trying to escape unemployment and an economic crisis that has gripped the country since the toppling of autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Hundreds of people protested in the southern towns of Madenine, Tataouine and Al-Hamma Tuesday evening against the poor economic conditions, residents said.

The Tunisian government has been widely criticized for not grasping the extent of the tragedy. The prime minister visited the island Tuesday to oversee the search operations.

The shipwreck is the deadliest in the Mediterranean since February 2, when 90 people drowned off the coast of Libya, according to the IOM.

Human traffickers have increasingly moved their operations to Tunisia since a crackdown by the coastguard in neighboring Libya.

Tunisia stopped about 6,000 migrants leaving its coast for Europe in the first five months of the year – a sharp increase from the few hundred prevented in the same period last year, an Interior Ministry official said.

Numbers are usually particularly low during the winter months when sea conditions are tougher.

This year up to May 2, a total of 1,910 Tunisian migrants reached Italy, including 39 women and 307 minors – 293 of whom were unaccompanied – compared to only 231 for the same period in 2017, according to the U.N. migrant agency IOM.

Overall, the number of migrants reaching Italy has fallen sharply since last July, when a major smuggling group in the Libyan coastal city of Sabratha struck a deal to halt departures under Italian pressure and was then forced out in clashes. Libya’s EU-backed coastguard has also returned more migrants to that country after intercepting them at sea.

Belgian Migration Minister Theo Francken said Tuesday that the European Union “also need a deal with Tunisia, much like we have with Turkey, so people who depart from Libya can be rescued at sea and brought back to Tunisia.”

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