33 Bangladeshis survive shipwreck in Tunisia with more than 50 people are feared to have drowned after their boat heading from Libya to Europe sank, Tunisia's defence ministry has said.
Mohamed Zikri, a defence ministry spokesperson, said 33 survivors of the shipwreck were picked up after clinging to an oil platform off the southern coast of Tunisia, reports the Guardian.
"There are 33 survivors, all apparently from Bangladesh," Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told AFP.
"At least 50 are missing."
The boat, crammed with more than 90 passengers, left the Libyan port of Zuwara on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear what caused the boat to sink, but vessels leaving the north African coast for Europe are often heavily overloaded makeshift crafts, departing at night even in rough weather to avoid detection from the coastguard.
Tunisian rescuers were bringing the survivors to the port of Zarzis, 100km (70 miles) north-west of Zuwara. "We don't know the nationality of the more than 50 who are missing," Di Giacomo added.
At least 1,200 migrants died in the Mediterranean last year, most of them crossing the central part of the sea, according to the United Nations.
Libya is a key gateway for Europe-bound migrants. According to the IOM, a Geneva-based UN agency, more than 500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the shores of north Africa to Italy and Malta since the start of 2021.
On Monday, the Tunisian navy said it had rescued more than 100 migrants, mainly from Bangladesh and Sudan, whose boat was "on the verge of sinking".
Several boats were also stopped by Libyan coastguards and brought back to shore overnight Sunday.
"Two days ago about 680 migrants were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya," Di Giacomo said. "Almost 9,000 have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya in 2021 so far."
Safa Msehli of the IOM said support for search and rescue teams "should be contingent on no one being arbitrarily detained or subjected to human rights violations", warning that "without such guarantees, such support should be reconsidered".
The European Union has for several years supported Libyan forces to try to stem migration, despite often grim conditions in detention centres in Libya.