Desperate migrants are throwing death traps into the sea from Tunisian beaches in homemade boats and using inner tubes from car tires as life jackets, a MailOnline investigation has revealed.
The metal boats made in backstreet workshops are then sold to migrants who pay 6,000 Tunisian dinars (£1,500) a head for a place in them and the perilous 120-mile journey across the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
More than 43,000 mainly sub-Saharan Africans have set sail from the beaches of Sfax and La Luz so far this year, and more than 600 victims are believed to have drowned, with children tragically among them.
While most are happy to try and reach the safety of Italy or perhaps France or Germany, some are keen to try and make it to the United Kingdom where they dream of securing a job and wages.
MailOnline spoke to a group of Cameroonian men, who were among a group of 43 who paid 6,000 Tunisian dinars for a place on a boat earlier this week and who failed to make it to Lampedusa after being lost at sea.
Cameroonian men (from left) Jordan Cheutu, 25, Fredo Ulrich, 25 and Ali Nasser, 30, who were among a group of 43 who paid 6,000 Tunisian dinars for a place on a boat earlier this week and failed to do so were lost at sea. Then Lampedusa in Italy
Broken steel boats used by migrants from the beach in the village of La Louja, Tunisia
African migrants gather at the Tunisian port of Sfraux before embarking on a boat to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
Armed with only a simple compass on an iPhone, the group was directed to the small Italian island, a stepping stone to Europe, and told to simply ‘go straight’ by hardened traffickers.
But the boat went missing within hours of setting off from La Louja and the desperate migrants – who included women and young children – were rescued by a Tunisian fishing boat, which demanded payment in exchange for helping them.
In the dramatic video shared with MailOnline, the group can be seen sailing in metal boats and some on board wearing car tire inner tubes as makeshift life jackets in case of trouble.
Ali Nasser, 30, from Cameroon, told MailOnline he spent five years in Morocco, crossing a barbed-wire fence in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta before deciding to try his luck in neighboring Tunisia.
Standing on the beach near where he was dumped after being dragged away, he said: ‘We spent three days lost at sea before we found a Tunisian fishing boat.
‘The captain said he would take us ashore, but he wanted to pay so everyone had to hand over what little money they had left.
‘What other options did we have? We would have died of heat exhaustion or the boat would have sunk.
African migrants huddle together in the main square of Sfax, Tunisia
MailOnline spoke to Cameroonian men after they attempted the crossing
Many have now built homes in a park in the center of Sfax, Tunisia
‘They are not very safe; These are made in workshops by human traffickers and then sold to migrants. They are welded together and in some places, they have a filler to stop water ingress
‘They are death traps but what other options do we have? I tried several times to cross Ceuta from Morocco and never made it, I was there for five years and now I decided to try from Tunisia. All I want to do is Europe, Italy, France, England I don’t care.’
Fredo Ulrich, 25, who was on the boat with him, said: ‘The traffickers sold us the boat and they told us where to meet and when to be there.
‘We all went ahead and he just said ‘use the compass on your iPhone and go straight, don’t go left don’t go right and you’ll end up in Lampedusa.
‘But after a few hours at sea the signal went out, and we had no idea where we were going. It was very open and we were under the hot sun, I think we were going in circles for days.
‘Sometimes we tried to use the sun as a guide, we knew that at dawn the sun came from the east so we tried to go that way but there was no way to try to cross 120 miles of sea.’
Jordan Cheutu, 25, who was on board, said: ‘People smugglers are a mafia – they just want your money. They don’t care about our lives. I’ve been here since April, and tried this for the first time.
So far this year, more than 43,000 have set sail from the mainly sub-Saharan African beaches of Sfax and La Luz.
Local restaurant owner Halim Hamrooni and wife Sonia with their children Youssef (12) and Henin (6).
African migrants gather at the Tunisian port of Sfraux
‘I worked as a laborer for a while to get the money to put space on the boat and now I’ve lost it and I’m back here again. InshAllah (God willing) I will find another job and get the money to try again.
‘People say these boats are just ‘sailing coffins’ and they’re right; They are death traps, but we have no choice. I have an engineering degree but no job in Cameroon, I have to find work for my family and my government doesn’t help.’
When asked if they wanted to go to England, all the men replied: ‘Who doesn’t want to go to England? But you need papers to get there and it’s another sea crossing too. It would be worth it though, I hear there are good paying jobs.’
Jordan added: ‘It’s been a dream to go to Europe for a long time and I walked all the way from Cameroon to Tunisia. I know it’s dangerous but I have to go to Europe.’
MailOnline has told potential men that if they are caught trying to enter England they could be deported to Rwanda as part of the UK government’s new Stop the Boat policy.
But he replied: ‘Cameroon to Tunisia is about the same distance as Rwanda to Cameroon so I’ll keep trying.’
Many of the ships salvaged by the Tunisian coastguard have been brought back to port and are rusting in the hot sun, with welding lines clearly visible and some still wearing migrants’ clothing.
A jetty on the outskirts of Sfax is nicknamed Titanic by locals because it is a regularly used launching spot for boats, many of which have shared the same fate as the luxury liner that sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg.
A fisherman who would only give his name as Sami was collecting his nets during a few minutes’ walk along the coast to MailOnline.
Among them are Sekou Kourouma and his friend Konate Kos in the Tunisian port of Sfrax.
Ophthalmologist Safa Ammar, 32, whose shop overlooks the park, said ‘the smell is disgusting’.
Fisherman Sami describes the location from which the migrants set off in their attempt to cross.
A steel boat used by migrants has been destroyed from the beach in La Luja village
Smoking heavily, the 27-year-old said: ‘I’ve lost count of the number of bodies I’ve found in the sea and on the beach in the last few weeks.
‘I’ve seen a lot and it shocked me at first but now they’re so common I’m used to it. If I see a child or a child, and I have several times, then it gets in my heart because I myself have children.
‘I thought ‘Why did this happen to these little ones? They don’t deserve to die like this.’
‘Often it’s just the body parts I find because they’ve been in the water for so long and the fish are eating them.’
As he spoke, local restaurant owner Youssef Hamrouni, 42, blasted the situation at the march, blaming immigrants for an 80 percent drop in his business compared to last summer.
He echoed the words of Tunisian President Kais Said, who said the migrants were part of a conspiracy to undermine the country’s Arab identity and denied they were being mistreated despite claims of abuse and racism.
Yusuf said: ‘This year has been a disaster for me. Last summer I had people queuing outside my place to eat fish but now who wants to come and eat fish where carcasses are washed in water and nets?
‘Look at my place, it’s Friday. It’s a holiday and there’s no one here. This is my livelihood and it’s all because of sub-Saharan migrants. Did you know that we are having trouble finding staple foods like bread, milk and sugar?
A wharf in Asia Jara is locally known as ‘Titanic’ where boats carrying migrants leave
‘God be with you’ is the message of this boat on a beach in the village of La Luz
Broken steel boats used by migrants from the beach in the village of La Luja
Ramzan Rahim Mohammad Thuli who hopes to play professional football in England
‘This is because they are taking everything and leaving nothing for us Tunisians. They need to close the southern border now and then release everyone who wants to get on the boat so we can get back to normal.
‘The last few weeks when I walk on the beach I find dead bodies, and some children and it bothers me but they should stay at home, it’s dangerous is it worth risking your life?
‘They say they are fleeing poverty and they have no money but where are they going to get the money to pay the people smugglers? They should stay at home, the situation is getting worse, already we have Tunisians killed by sub-Saharans and it will get worse.’
The EU on Sunday agreed to give Tunisia 1 billion euros to fight people-trafficking and support the country’s failing economy, and commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands were in the capital, Tunis, to sign the deal. .
While President Said said Tunisia would not be ‘the EU’s border guard’ many insiders say the handout is a sweetener to try to avoid another wave of migration to Europe.
In the city of Sfax itself, riots broke out earlier this month after a Tunisian man was fatally stabbed and three Cameroonians were later arrested and charged with murder, but that led to several nights of violence as angry migrants stormed out of their homes. the crowd
Tunisian President Kais Said (second right), Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (right), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (second left) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) at the Presidential Palace in Tunis yesterday, where it was announced that Tunisia and the European Union A memorandum of cooperation was signed between
Many have now made homes in a park in the center of the city, an area littered with plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and washing hanging from trees, as migrants seek shelter from the scorching sun.
MailOnline spoke to Haruna Turay, 23, from Sierra Leone, who was forced out of her home by a mob armed with sticks, knives and dogs and forced to run for her life.
He said: ‘I don’t know where to go or what to do. I just want to get a good life for me in England, France. Italy, I don’t care. All I know is that Tunisian people are racist, and they hate us, they don’t want us here in their country.
‘I was working to find money to cross but I had to run away from home because people attacked me, now I’m living in a park sleeping on cardboard and having to get bread and water from charity.’
Ophthalmologist Safa Ammar, 32, whose shop overlooks the park: ‘Of course I feel sorry for these people, they are human beings like us but they need to move on. The smell is disgusting, and the garbage is terrible.
‘No one comes into my shop because they are afraid to walk past these people. Our government needs to do something and it needs to be done quickly or there will be problems.’
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