ABOARD THE OCEAN VIKING (AP) — At least two people died and 14 were missing Tuesday after a boat filled with people hoping to reach Europe capsized near Tunisia.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, a rescue ship picked up 109 people from two flimsy boats off the coast of Libya within hours of each other. And in northern France, police cleared a gym and makeshift tent camp filled with migrants waiting to go to Britain.
The number of people seeking international protection in 30 European countries rose by a monthly 26% in July, according to figures Tuesday from the European Union’s asylum office. The European total for the year so far is about 400,500, higher than the same period last year but still much lower than the levels recorded in 2015-2016, when well over 1 million migrants entered Europe, most of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.
The latest migrant deaths in the Mediterranean occurred off the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax. Tunisia’s national guard spokesman, Houssameddine Jbabli, told The Associated Press that authorities rescued nine people from a boat Tuesday, recovered two bodies, and were searching for the 14 missing passengers.
He said Tunisian coast guard patrols have detained 192 people and stopped 10 boats bound for Europe over the last two days. All those detained are Tunisian, except for three Iraqis.
The stepped-up efforts against illegal migration came as Tunisia mobilized more than 100,000 security agents around the country for Sunday’s presidential election .
Many migrants launch off the coast of Tunisia and neighboring Libya, usually in boats too flimsy for the journey.
With Europe’s policy toward migrants in flux, the Ocean Viking went out for another search and rescue mission off Libya after disembarking 82 people on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after setting sail, the crew of the humanitarian rescue ship spotted a small wooden boat with 48 people on board. Among the passengers were five women and nine children, including a newborn.
Within hours, a spotter plane alerted them to a second boat, this one made of blue plastic, with a total of 61 people on board. The Ocean Viking has a capacity of about 300.
North Africa is both a source of migrants and a transit poin t for other migrants seeking to reach Europe. Once there, their future is uncertain as governments argue over how to handle the newcomers. Many hoping to move northward from Italy and Spain end up in tents, makeshift lean-tos or shelters.
In France, police evacuated at least 900 migrants from a gym and a nearby tent camp near the English Channel, citing concerns about security and hygiene.
A spokesman for the Nord region said the migrants being removed from the town of Grande Synthe include children with their families. Local media say the migrants include many Kurds from Iraq.
A court this month ordered the migrants removed, to stem violence and human trafficking in the neighborhood. The spokesman said the migrants are being taken to temporary shelters and could apply for asylum.
Activist groups have warned that evacuations don’t stop migrants from coming to the area. Migrants fleeing poverty and conflict have long congregated in towns along the French coast in hopes of crossing the English Channel to Britain.