Over 20 migrants feared drowned off Libyan coast: International Organization for Migration

In this file photo taken on August 1, 2017 a member of Aquarius rescue ship run by NGO SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres holds a girl after she was recovered with others by Santa Lucia merchant ship in the Mediterranean Sea, 20 nautic miles from the Libyan coast. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
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Over 20 migrants feared drowned off Libyan coast: International Organization for Migration

ROME: More than 20 African migrants were missing and feared drowned Tuesday after scores of people seeking to reach Italy were rescued from unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday.
A Cypriot merchant ship picked up 72 migrants in international waters on Saturday, 30 of whom had left Libya on a wooden boat and 42 others from a rubber dinghy.
They were then handed over to the Aquarius humanitarian ship chartered by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The IOM said that after arriving at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily on Tuesday, the survivors from the first group told them that 21 people traveling with them had been lost at sea.
“People fell in the water when people panicked overnight and the boat almost capsized,” a young Gambian migrant told SOS Mediterranee.
“There were five women on board, four drowned, one of whom was a pregnant woman. My brother died.”
Those in the second group said that 90 people were rescued by the Libyan coast guard and taken back to Libya.
“We do not know exactly how it happened but families have been separated and we are trying to see how to bring them back together,” Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for IOM in Italy, told AFP.
Italy’s interior ministry said 5,300 migrants have arrived in the country this year, 66 percent fewer than over the same period of 2017.
That follows a sharp decline since last summer after a controversial agreement was struck with Libya that has drawn fierce criticism due to the often dire conditions migrants face when returned to the north African country.
At least 337 migrants have died or disappeared off the coast of Libya since the beginning of the year, the IOM said.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.