(Reuters) – Thirty-seven migrants are missing after their boat capsized between Tunisia and the Italian island of Lampedusa, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday, citing an account by four survivors of the shipwreck.
The United Nations agency said the survivors, all from sub-Saharan Africa, arrived on Lampedusa late on Thursday, having been rescued from the shipwreck by another vessel.
The survivors told the IOM they left the Tunisian port of Sfax heading for Italy with 46 people aboard, but their boat capsized in strong winds.
They recounted that five of their fellow travellers were picked up by another boat, while 37 are missing feared dead, including seven women and a child, an IOM spokesman in Italy told Reuters.
Earlier, the UN’s High Commission for Refugees gave a similar account of the same incident, but said 40 people were believed to be missing, rather than 37.
There has been a surge in migration across the Mediterranean from Tunisia this year after a crackdown by Tunis on migrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in the country illegally and reports of racist attacks amid an economic downturn.
At least 12 African migrants were missing and three died after three boats sank off Tunisia, a judicial official said on Thursday, while the country’s coastguard rescued 152 others.
It was not immediately clear if the four survivors who recounted their story to the IOM were on one of these three boats.