Tunisia Intercepts 70,000 Migrants in the Mediterranean in 2023

Afaf Fahchouch
Afaf Fahchouch
2 Min Read

Tunisia’s National Guard intercepted around 70,000 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy this year, more than double the figures recorded during the same period last year, according to a spokesperson for the Guard. Tunisia, alongside Libya, serves as a major departure point from North Africa for thousands of migrants seeking to reach Europe.

Over the course of eleven months, the National Guard intercepted 69,963 migrants, compared to 31,297 during the same period in 2022. The statistics reveal that 77.5% (54,224) of those intercepted were foreigners, mostly citizens of sub-Saharan African countries, with the remaining 22.5% (15,739) being Tunisians. This marks an increase from 2022 when 59% of intercepted individuals were foreigners (18,363) and 41% (12,961) were Tunisians.

The pace of migration surged after a speech by Tunisian President Kais Saied last February, condemning the arrival of “hordes of illegal migrants” from sub-Saharan Africa. He deemed this influx part of a “criminal plan” aimed at “changing the demographic composition” of the country, sparking a violent campaign against migrants. The President’s remarks led to the repatriation of thousands and prompted others to attempt the perilous sea journey.

In 2023, the majority of migrants (82%) were intercepted off the coast near the city of Sfax (central-east Tunisia), 150 kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa, compared to 66% in 2022, according to the Tunisian National Guard. Another acceleration in migrant departures occurred this summer after hundreds were expelled from Sfax following violent incidents that resulted in the death of a Tunisian, leading some migrants to head for the sea.

UN criticized the “expulsion” operations, while Tunisian authorities rejected the accusations. According to international humanitarian sources, at least 5,500 migrants were expelled towards the Libyan border and more than 3,000 towards the Algerian border since June, including many who had been previously intercepted at sea.


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