Tunisia cracks down on human trafficking, arrests migrants, seizes boats

Tunisian authorities, with the support of aircraft and anti-terrorism units, conducted a significant operation on Saturday in the coastal region of Sfax, a crucial departure point for migrants en route to Europe, during the operation hundreds of migrants were arrested, and several boats were seized, marking a major crackdown on people smuggling.

The operation, reportedly ordered by President Kais Saied, coincided with the Italian island of Lampedusa grappling with an unprecedented surge in arrivals of boat migrants crossing from North Africa.

Tunisian National Guard units conducted raids on residences where numerous migrants were residing, intercepted trucks transporting migrants toward the beaches, and confiscated vessels utilized by the smugglers, as stated by officials and witnesses.

During the operation, which mobilized planes, police dogs, military vehicles, and involved hundreds of police officers, multiple suspected people smugglers were apprehended in the towns of Jebiniana, Kerkennah, Msatria, and Sfax, the capital of the governorate.

“The air operation is intended to target smugglers who trade in the pain of frustrated people,” National Guard Colonel Houssem Jbebli told reporters.

The Interior Ministry stated that President Saied ordered the crackdown in response to the “unacceptable influx of migrants.”

Tunisia faces significant pressure from Italy and the European Union, with the EU committing 1 billion euros in financial aid to assist Tunisia’s struggling economy, contingent on the country’s efforts to curb the migration flow.

Over the past few days, approximately 7,000 individuals arriving on boats from North Africa have disembarked on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, leading to pleas for assistance from the island’s mayor.

In total, Italian interior ministry data reveals that approximately 126,000 boat migrants have reached Italy since the beginning of the year, nearly doubling the 64,529 arrivals recorded during the same period in 2022.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni urged the European Union on Friday to take collective action, including the possibility of a naval mission, to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

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