Some 52,972 people have attempted to cross the sea borders to reach Europe illegally from Tunisia since the start of 2024, Interior Minister Kamel Fekih said on Tuesday. 92% of them were foreigners, he pointed out while commending the security and military forces' significant efforts to protect Tunisia's borders.

Speaking at the opening of the "Arab Forum to Curb Migrant Smuggling and to Promote Safe and Regular Migration Pathways," held in Tunis in collaboration with the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the minister added that some 4,336 people were rescued at sea, including 4,243 foreigners, i.e. 98% of all those rescued.

The security and military forces also arrested 595 smugglers and organisers of illegal crossings and seized 429 boats. "3,369 attemtps were foiled during this period, 103 boats were sunk and 341 bodies were recovered, including bodies of 336 foreigners," Fekih said.

"The irregular migration phenomenon is closely linked to the human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes, which are now managed by specialised international networks," he underlined. In this respect, the minister explained that "it is generally agreed that irregular migration overlaps with other crimes such as terrorism, drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering, etc."

The minister further pointed out that this phenomenon is "abnormal and inhumane and calls for reflection to develop a realistic, comprehensive and multidimensional approach aimed mainly to root out the causes rather than trying to address the consequences, in the interests of peoples and to guarantee their security and stability."

This forum is being held in a tense regional and international context, where countries are facing multiple security and development challenges, Fekih said, calling on experts and all stakeholders to further exchange views and draw up mechanisms capable of countering the various types of cross-border organised crime, especially irregular migration.

Taking the floor, IOM Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa Othman Belbeisi said the IOM had helped repatriate in 2023 some 2,500 irregular migrants to their countries. 2,600 irregular migrants had been repatriated to their countries of origin by April 2024, he added.

The IOM official further pointed to the increase in migrant smuggling and irregular migration in North African countries, as they serve as transit and destination points for many migrants. "North Africa is also a land of origin for migrants, who have contributed to the development of Europe at different periods in history," he indicated.

The aim of this forum is to develop common Arab strategies on migration, in addition to exchanging information and data, he pointed out.

African migration has been on a steady upward trajectory for the past two decades. The record level of over 40 million African migrants represents a 30% increase from 2010. Given continuing strong push factors, that trend can be expected to continue in 2023, a study published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies reads.

Africa accounts for only 14% of the global migrant population, compared to 41% from Asia and 24% from Europe, the study shows.

A study conducted by the United Nations in 2010 also revealed that 93% of Africans making the journey to European countries along irregular routes, would do it again, despite facing often life-threatening danger.

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