Tunisians protest over missing migrants

5. Tunisia
Residents gather in the city center of Zarzis, Tunisia on October 18, 2022, during a general strike to demand a renewed search for missing migrants. (Photo: AFP)

ZARZIS, Tunisia — Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated, and a general strike shut down the coastal city of Zarzis Tuesday, to demand a renewed search for relatives who went missing during a September migration attempt.اضافة اعلان

The city has been rocked by days of protests also fueled by anger over the burial of four people, suspected of being missing Tunisians, in a nearby cemetery for foreign migrants — allegedly without efforts to identify them.

“We want to know the truth,” local activist Ezzedine Msalem told AFP, denouncing “a state crime perpetrated against the inhabitants of Zarzis”.

Tuesday’s protests come four weeks after 18 Tunisians boarded a boat headed for Italy, joining tens of thousands of clandestine migrants who have attempted to reach Europe in recent years — many of them Tunisians exhausted by a chronic economic crisis.

Zarzis residents have been angered by reports that authorities buried four bodies found at sea — believed to be passengers from the boat — in a nearby cemetery for foreign migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, whose bodies regularly wash up along the coast after similar tragedies.

Those bodies have since been exhumed for identification, while another two bodies believed to be Tunisians have been found.

That would leave 12 passengers from the boat still missing.

Media reports said as many as 4,000 protesters, including relatives of the missing, marched along the city’s main street.

Many held up pictures of relatives or signs saying “we want the truth.”

Government inquiry

The powerful UGTT trade union federation voiced support for the strike and demanded an inquiry into the rescue effort and how the bodies were buried.

Shops and government offices were closed, along with health services, except for emergency cases.

On Tuesday, President Kais Saied asked Justice Minister Leila Jaffel to open an investigation “so that Tunisians can know the full truth and who was behind these tragedies”.

The Tunisian Human Rights League said authorities had “not devoted the necessary resources to search and rescue operations in a timely way” and called for an inquiry into the burials.

The North African country has a long Mediterranean coast, in places just 130km from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Despite generally favorable weather from spring to autumn, the voyages on barely seaworthy boats often end in tragedy.

Earlier this month, AFP journalists saw the coastguard intercepting migrants aboard overcrowded boats.

Tunisian authorities intercepted nearly 200 migrants attempting to reach Europe over the weekend, the defense ministry said Tuesday.

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

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