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Tunisia 'rescues' 194 migrants: coastguard

Piles of captured migrant boats are seen in the central Tunisian port city of Sfax on October 4
— Tunis (AFP)

Tunisian authorities intercepted nearly 200 migrants attempting to reach Europe northwards across the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend, the defence ministry said Tuesday.

"Coast guard patrols rescued 194 illegal migrants (118 Tunisians and 76 of other African nationalities) over the weekend," it said in a statement.

The "rescues" took place in nine separate operations off the southern and north-eastern coast.

The North African country has a long Mediterranean coast, in places just 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, making it a magnet for people from across Africa seeking refuge in Europe.

According to official figures, more than 22,500 migrants have been intercepted off the Tunisian coast since the start of the year, around half of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

Tunisians themselves, exhausted by a long-running economic crisis that has left a third of the 12 million-strong population in poverty, are among many of those attempting the risky journey.

Generally favourable weather from spring to early autumn sees a rise in illegal attempts to reach Italy, but many of the attempts are in boats that are barely seaworthy, often leading to tragedy.

Early this month, AFP journalists saw the coast guard intercepting migrants aboard overcrowded, homemade boats.

According to EU border agency Frontex, between January and July more than 42,500 migrants used the central Mediterranean route -- the world's most deadly.

That is an increase of 44 percent compared with the first seven months of 2021.

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