Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 3 dead, more missing

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian coastguards recovered the corpses of three illegal migrants who were among a group of more than 20 people who went missing when the small boat carrying them to Europe capsized, witnesses and newspapers said.

The migrants set out late last week for the Italian island of Lampedusa, one of the main transit points for poor Africans hoping to start a new life in Europe, said newspaper Achourouk, which has good contacts in Tunisia's security services.

Witnesses said the three bodies washed up on a beach in the eastern town of Chabba.

"I still don't know if my 18-year old son Aymen is dead or alive," local resident Tayeb ben Hussein told Reuters by phone. "What is sure is he was on that boat heading for Europe."

He said his son was not among the three bodies found but that he recognised one as the corpse of another local man.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Last year, nearly 20,000 migrants arrived in Italy by boat from North Africa. At least 471 were reported dead or missing after hazardous journeys, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Migrant support groups accuse the European Union of pressuring North African governments to expel illegal migrants but failing to produce promised aid to help them find alternative livelihoods.

Thu 24 Apr 2008, 12:16 GMT

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