Tunisia recovers 27 migrant bodies from Med in week

TUNIS - The bodies of 27 migrants of sub-Saharan origin have been recovered off the coast of Tunisia in the past week, a spokesman for the country's civil protection agency told AFP on Friday.

"Since July 3, 27 bodies have been recovered, most of them off Ben Guerdane", a port in the south of the country, Mongi El Kadhi said.

Earlier, an official at Ben Guerdane port, Fathi Abab, had said 16 bodies that had washed ashore were thought to be of people who had drowned trying to reach Europe.

On June 10 off the same port, Tunisia's navy rescued 356 migrants, mainly Africans but also including Syrians and Pakistanis who had left Libya on a makeshift vessel on their way to Europe.

On Sunday, 17 Tunisian migrants were picked up from an inflatable boat off the northern town of El Haouria, the defence ministry said.

People smugglers have taken advantage of the chaos gripping Libya since the 2011 uprising toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi to step up their lucrative smuggling business.

According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees figures, of the more than 219,000 migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean in 2014, at least 3,500 lives were lost.

Hundreds have also died this year attempting to make the perilous crossing to Europe, including some 750 people when a trawler sank in April.