Sub-Saharan migrants eye Europe as thousands camp out in Sfax

Tunis: "My journey lasted seven months without a break. I suffered the worst. Thirst, hunger, fear and danger. I left Côte d'Ivoire for Mali and then Niger, where we regrouped before crossing the Algerian desert towards Sfax in Tunisia,' said Vincent, an Ivorian. He was talking about his and 40 others' journey to Europe, which was thwarted at sea by the Tunisian authorities over the weekend. Vincent's attempt to migrate clandestinely by sea to the Italian island of Lampedusa began on one of the beaches of El Aouabed in the coastal governorate of Sfax in south-eastern Tunisia. I'm not going to give up, no matter what,' Vincent told a team from TAP news agency on board a Tunisian coastguard patrol boat in the central region a few hours after the failed attempt, 'I'm not going to give up at any price. I will go back and try again. ' My goal is to get to Europe by any means and nothing but death will stop me,' he said, his voice full of anger. On the ground in Sfax, thousands of irregular migrants have gather ed in different areas and spread out in camps. Their presence has become controversial and has raised more than one question among the people of the region, as well as Tunisian public opinion. Tunisia is an African country and we don't want to stay here,' Haji, from Sierra Leone, who lives in a camp in Henchir Ben Farhat, west of the El Amra district, told TAP in an Arabic that combines various Maghreb dialects. Haji, the spokesman for the camp, which houses thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, most of them irregular migrants, appealed to the Tunisian authorities: "Let us go to Europe. Open the sea to us. Sfax, a tranquil region known for its economic dynamism and long Mediterranean coastline, has become a popular destination for residents of many towns and villages in sub-Saharan Africa. It has echoes in Somalia and Sudan to the east and Cameroon to the west. From there, 17 camps for irregular sub-Saharan migrants have sprung up in the belts of El Amra and Jebeniana, the smallest of which house s around 700 people and the largest thousands. El Amra and Jebeniana have become the keyword and the starting point for crossing to the other side of the Mediterranean. Point Zero On the night between Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11, the sea was "good" in the fishermen's language and the atmosphere was conducive to sailing. The patrol boat of the Coast Guard, which had set off from the coast of Sfax, was on the open sea in calm conditions. The ship, commanded by a young officer of the National Guard, a graduate of the University of Tunisia and an engineer-navigator who does not sleep at night or sleep during the day, was positioned at the zero point of the sea. At a quarter to three in the morning, there was an unusual movement on board the ship, the pace quickened, and everyone, officers and men alike, were organised and ready, each in his place and each doing his job. A few minutes later, the ship 'received' 41 irregular migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, including Vincent, an Ivorian. They were ta ken by a coastguard speedboat to be kept on board the vessel. In the first four months of this year, the Coast Guard was able to rescue and prevent more than 21,500 migrants who tried to illegally cross the maritime borders to the coast of Italy, spokesman for the General Directorate of the National Guard, Houssam Eddine Jebabli, told TAP. The National Guard foiled 751 attempts to sail illegally towards the European coast. A figure which, according to the same source, has in a short time exceeded the number of maritime border protection operations carried out last year (2023). The chase ... At midday on Saturday May 11 , after a long and tiring night, the TAP press team accompanying the coastguard patrol was resting in a small room originally intended for officers' rest, when the vessel suddenly moved at full speed, more than 30 miles out to sea. The Sudanese migrants' journey took about 12 hours. The rudimentary border boat was carrying 61 migrants, including two women and two infants. The boat began to take on water, and some of them were tasked with emptying it by any means necessary. The chase continued at sea for a long time, and the crews of the two fast boats of the Guardia Civil managed to control the migrants after difficult negotiations, after throwing stones that the migrants were carrying and threatening to throw the babies into the sea if they approached them, and after preventing them from continuing their journey. Sudanese are the most common Arab nationality on the "death boats" from the coast of Sfax, accounting for more than 65 per cent. Among sub-Saharan Africans, Guineans are in first place with 18 per cent, followed by Gambians, Malians, Malians, Burkinabes and Ivorians, according to data obtained by the TAP team from informed sources who asked not to be identified. With remarkable professionalism and skill, the coastguard teams were able to take control of the boat and rescue the two babies before the rest of the crew of the metal boat. The members of the Tunisian Coast Guard are di stinguished by their competence, professionalism and exceptional training,' said the spokesman for the National Guard, commenting on the incident. Camps ... Shocking situation! Disappointment and heartbreak were written on the migrants' pale faces. They had been sailing for more than 12 hours and had managed to travel 60 kilometres at sea from the beach of Aouabda towards Lampedusa, Italy. In the village of Hamayzia, near the beach of Aouabed, home to around 700 people, the camps surrounding the village are creeping ever closer to the shore, leaving behind the destruction of olive groves and crops and terrorising the landowners. Where are the authorities? Our land is occupied and we can no longer even reach it and walk around it,' said one of the landowners, holding a broken olive branch in his hand. Mohamed Ben Farah, a civil society activist in El Amra, told TAP: 'We are looking for solutions by all means until El Amra and Jebeniana are returned to their people. Some sub-Saharan brothers are cooperati ng, but the rest don't care and don't care about the misery they can cause. All they care about is preparing for a clandestine migration to the Italian coast. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently registered with the UNHCR office in Tunisia are from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa and some countries in the Middle East. Most arrive in Tunisia by land or air from neighbouring countries. On the ground, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans have gathered, the vast majority of whom are irregular migrants wanted in their countries, refugees and countries not at war, such as Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire,' Noureddine Enneifar, an expert in strategic studies and comprehensive security, told TAP. Thousands of irregular migrants are stationed in El Amra and Jebeniana, ready to seize the moment to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the land of their dreams. The TAP team observed that some of them have adapted to the environment, s ome have taken jobs and collaborated with some of those who "live" from their presence, as a short trip on a motorbike costs twenty dinars and sometimes more, while others earn thousands of dinars by providing metal and engines for the construction of metal boats. Food is sold in the migrant camps for many times its value. A number of sub-Saharans have become very cunning and are dealing directly with humanitarian organisations in criminal schemes aimed at organising the smuggling of migrants from their countries and saving the cost of irregular migration operations that start in Sfax,' said Noureddine Enneifar. No organisation has visited us and we have received no support, we hear about them without actually doing anything,' Sierra Leonean migrant 'Haji' told TAP. On the evening of Sunday May 12, Haji called a local civil society activist in El Amra and asked him to help and intervene to get an ambulance for a woman in the camp who had gone into labour. Source: Agence Tunis Afrique Presse