Up to 70 migrants drown after their boat sinks off Tunisia

At least 70 migrants drowned on Friday when their boat sank in international waters off the Tunisian coast. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

Up to 70 migrants drown after their boat sinks off Tunisia

  • Tunisia’s state news agency TAP said 70 people drowned as the boat sank and that fishing boats rescued 16 others
  • So far this year, 17,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea, about 30 percent fewer than the 24,000 arriving during the same period last year, according to the IOM

TUNIS: As many as 70 migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya drowned Friday when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, and at least 16 others on the boat were rescued, according to UN migration officials and Tunisia’s state news agency.
The International Organization for Migration called it the deadliest migrant boat sinking since January, and it comes as overall migrant arrivals to Europe are decreasing.
The smuggling boat was coming from Libya when it sent a distress signal in international waters early Friday off the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, according to an IOM official in Tunisia. She said between 60 and 70 people drowned.
Tunisia’s state news agency TAP said 70 people drowned as the boat sank and that fishing boats rescued 16 others.
The survivors of the sinking are now being questioned and cared for by Tunisian authorities, the IOM official said. She said they included people from Bangladesh and Morocco, among other nationalities.
Joel Millman, an IOM spokesman in Geneva, said the reported death toll is the largest number of migrants killed since a Jan. 19 sinking in which 117 people were reported missing and presumed dead.
So far this year, 17,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea, about 30 percent fewer than the 24,000 arriving during the same period last year, according to the IOM. It said 443 people have reportedly died on dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossings so far this year, compared to 620 deaths for the same period in 2018.
Libya’s navy said Friday it rescued 213 Europe-bound African and Arab migrants off the Mediterranean coast this week. It said they were handed over to Libyan police after having received humanitarian and medical aid.
Lawless Libya in North Africa became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe after an uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Libyan authorities have stepped up efforts to stem the flow of migrants, with European assistance.
But human rights groups have strongly criticized Libya for its detention centers, saying migrants being sent back to Libya faced hunger, beatings, torture, rapes and a lack of medical care.
In addition, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive against the government in the Libyan capital of Tripoli last month. The UN health agency says 443 people have died, 2,110 have been wounded and nearly 60,000 have been displaced by the violence.


Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 28 February 2020

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.