Five migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

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Five migrants from sub-Saharan Africa drowned and five more were missing after their boat sank off Tunisia en route for Europe, authorities said Saturday.

The Tunisian coastguard rescued around 20 others from the Mediterranean, according to Faouzi Masmoudi, the district attorney from the port city of Sfax.

Boats were continuing to scour the waters off Sfax for any more survivors, Masmoudi added.

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Parts of the Tunisian coastline lie less than 150 kilometres (barely 90 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, making them a favoured departure point for migrants ready to risk the dangerous sea crossing.

More than 23,500 migrants of various nationalities were intercepted off Tunisia between January and September last year, according to the FTDES rights group which tracks migration issues.

More than 500 people died or disappeared at sea during the same period, it said.

The coastguard is under pressure to stem the flow but lacks the means to do so, according to Tunisian authorities.

The so-called central Mediterranean route, which also includes boat launchings from neighbouring Libya, is the world’s most deadly migration pathway.

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