The survivors have 60 days to decide whether they want to go home, seek asylum through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or to remain in Tunisia.
Rabat – A boat carrying a group of illegal migrants sank in the Mediterranean sea trying to reach Italy from Libya, killing at least 60, while 16 survivors, including 14 Bangladeshis, a Moroccan, and an Egyptian were rescued by a Tunisian fishing ship, on Saturday.
After spending 8 hours in cold water, the fishing ship crew spotted the castaways 60 kilometers off the coastal Tunisian city of Sfax after their ship sunk on Friday night.
The 16 survivors are being housed in a Red Crescent emergency shelter in Zarzis, southern Tunisia.
One of the Bangladeshi survivors, Ahmed Bilal, told France Press Agency, AFP, about his journey starting from leaving Bangladesh to being in the Mediterranean.
Originally from the region of Sylhet, northeastern Bangladesh, Bilal left his village along with four villagers six months ago.
“My family has sold our land, where we harvested rice once per year. They hope becoming like other families who have someone of their own in Europe,” he stated.
A Bangladeshi broker had promised them an easier life in Europe in exchange for $7,000.
“People call him ‘Good Luck,’ he said that we will have a better life and we believed him,” Bilal explained.
Bilal, who saw his cousin and step-brother die before his eyes, is convinced that most of the people the broker send to Europe ‘die on the way.’
The villagers flew from Dakka to Dubai, and then to Istanbul and finally to Tripoli. They ended up with a group of 80 Bangladeshis locked in a room in western Libya for three months.
“I already thought that I was going to die in Libya, we had food once a day, sometimes less, there was one restroom for everyone and we could not shower, except teeth. We were crying, we were always asking for food all the time,” added Bilal.
On Thursday evening, smugglers took around 75 to 80 people in a rubber boat heading to Italy.
The majority of the migrants were Bangladeshi, there were also Egyptians, nine Moroccans, some Chadians, as well as other nationalities.
“We started sinking almost immediately, around midnight,” said an Egyptian survivor, Manzour Mohammed Metwella, aged 21. “We swam all night,” he added.
“They died one by one, every minute, we were losing someone,” Bilal told AFP.
“I myself was giving up but god sent fishermen to save us, if they had arrived ten minutes later, I think I would have let go,” explained Bilal.
A Red Crescent official in southern Tunisia, Mongi Slim, has said that if the Tunisian fishermen had not seen them, they would never have known about the shipwreck.
The shipwreck happened as a vessel from the EU’s anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling naval operation in the Mediterranean (Operation Sophia) withdrew from the eastern Mediterranean.
The castaways have 60 days to decide whether they want to go home, seek asylum through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or to stay in Tunisia.
Bilal appeared determined to reach Europe but this time not by the sea.
“We have lost so much, I have nothing left, we are still hoping to go to Europe to make enough money and come home,” explains Bilal. “I never want to go to sea again,” he added.