17 migrants drown, 166 others rescued off Tunisian coast

Tunis: At least 17 migrants from Bangladesh drowned and more than 300 were rescued by Tunisian and Libyan naval units after their boat sank in the Mediterranean, according to aid groups Thursday. Survivors said all those who died had been in the hold of the boat because they had paid smugglers less than others, and were suffocated by smoke when the engine caught fire, according to Mongi Slim, head of the Tunisian Red Crescent.

There has been a spike in crossings and attempted migrant boat crossings to Europe from Libya in recent months.

The boat initially had around 400 migrants on board, 200 of whom were picked up by units of the Libyan navy, Slim said.

Tunisian naval units retrieved 17 bodies and rescued 166 migrants, including others from Bangladesh as well as people from Morocco, Egypt, Syria and Ivory Coast, he said.

The boat left last Monday night off the coast of Zouara, Libya, with the aim of reaching Europe, and sank off the Tunisian port of Zarzis, Slim said.

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