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Two Tunisian teenage migrants die in shipping container

Two teenage would-be migrants from Tunisia died after hiding in a refrigerated container on a ship travelling to Europe, the country’s civil protection department said on Tuesday.

“Two people aged 16 and 17 died after infiltrating a container transporting fruit and vegetables on a ship that was heading to a European country,” Mounir Riabi, the director of civil protection for the Tunis region, told AFP.

The two minors were part of a group of four young people trying to migrate irregularly, spending around eight hours in the cold container “before the ship’s crew became aware of their presence and returned to the port of Tunis”, Riabi said.

The two surviving members of the group were hospitalised and are “in a stable condition”, according to Riabi, saying that the group came from isolated interior regions of Tunisia.

Last week, the national guard announced the disappearance at sea of about 40 Tunisians who left from Sfax province, on Tunisia’s central coast, who were trying to reach Italy, whose island of Lampedusa lies around 150 kilometres (90 miles) away.

In 2023, more than 155,000 irregular migrants arrived in Italy, an increase of 50 percent over the previous year.

At 17,304 people, Tunisian migrants formed the second-largest contingent behind Guineans, at 18,204, according to numbers from the Italian interior ministry.

Declining economic conditions and lack of opportunities are an important factor motivating migrants to make risky journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe.

The Tunisian economy, hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and a drought that devastated its agriculture in 2023, is at a near-standstill with a 1.3 percent growth rate last year and a youth unemployment rate around 38 percent.

The country concluded a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund and a cash injection of $2 billion, but negotiations stalled when President Kais Saied rejected the reforms demanded by the fund.

The Tunisian state makes a point of repaying its debts, which hover around 80 percent of GDP, but lacks liquidity to provide its population with basic products, leading to repeated shortages of flour, sugar and rice.

Beyond its serious economic difficulties, Tunisia has been shaken by political tensions since Saied’s coup on July 25, 2021, aggravated in 2023 by the imprisonment of important opposition figures.

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