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Tunisia to construct more cemeteries to make room for the dead refugees who wash up on the country’s coasts

Tunisia is considering building additional cemeteries because there is not enough space to bury all of the refugees who wash up on its shores every day. The country has become a significant transit point for migrants and refugees seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, with many fleeing conflict, persecution, and economic hardship in their home countries.

The first three months of 2023 saw an increase in the number of boats carrying asylum seekers capsize at sea, making it the deadliest period for those trying to cross the central Mediterranean since 2017, according to the UN. Bodies frequently wash up on Tunisian beaches, including those of children and pregnant women, and are collected and buried.

Providing humanitarian assistance and ensuring the safe and dignified treatment of migrants and refugees who arrive at the Tunisian shores has created significant challenges for the country. The Tunisian government and civil society organizations have worked to provide assistance, including food, water, and medical care, but there is a shortage of space in many municipal cemeteries to bury refugees, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa.

Over 800 dead were found in the Sfax region alone last year, and more than 300 have been discovered since the beginning of 2023, according to the Tunisian Red Crescent.

The Sfax governorate held an emergency meeting with health authorities to find ‘radical solutions’ to the problem, including ‘quickly allocating a cemetery for immigrants and the provision of refrigerated trucks to transport often decomposing bodies.’

The situation is complicated by the fact that many migrants and refugees are stranded in Tunisia, unable to continue their journey to Europe due to border closures and restrictions imposed by European countries. This has led to overcrowding and a growing sense of desperation among those stranded in Tunisia.

Nearly 20,000 migrants have left Tunisia this year, and roughly 15,500 migrants have left Libya, according to data from the UNHCR. However, more departures also mean more fatalities, and the Maltese and Italian authorities are blamed for holding up rescue operations.

With a huge increase in the number of refugee boats seeking to reach the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in the previous month, more than 35,000 people, nearly four times as many as in 2022, have reached the Italian shoreline.


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