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Migrant crisis: Tunisian fisherman finds dead bodies in his net

As the number of migrants trying to reach Europe grows so does the number of deaths in the Mediterranean.

While European Union officials struggle to contain the exodus, the plight of those fleeing poverty and persecution is leaving its tragic mark on the shores of Tunisia.

As the sun creeps above the horizon off the shores of its eastern coast, fisherman Oussama Dabbebi begins hauling in his nets. His face fixes anxiously on its contents, because sometimes fish are not all he finds.

The 30-year-old fisherman, clad in a dark, hooded sweatshirt and shorts, says he recently found the bodies of 15 migrants in his nets over a three-day period.

“Once I found a baby’s body. How is a baby responsible for anything? I was crying. For adults it’s different because they have lived. But you know, for the baby, it didn’t see anything.”

Mr Dabbebi has fished these waters near Tunisia’s second city of Sfax since he was 10 years old.

In those days he was one of many casting their nets, but now he says most fishermen have sold their boats for vast sums to people smugglers.

“Many times smugglers have offered me unbelievable amounts to sell my boat. I have always refused because if they used my boat and someone drowned, I would never forgive myself.”

All ultimately hope to reach the UK. One explains that they have reluctantly abandoned a second attempt to cross to Italy because of an overcrowded boat and worsening weather.

“There were so many people and the boat was very small. We were still going to go, but when we pushed away from the shore it was really windy. There was too much wind.”

Between January and April this year some 24,000 people left the Tunisian coast in makeshift boats and made it to Italy, according to the UN refugee agency.

The country has now become the biggest departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe. Libya previously held this dubious accolade, but violence against migrants and abductions by criminal gangs have led to many travelling to Tunisia instead, before heading on to Europe.

Though the boat involved in last week’s disaster off the Greek coast, which has left at least 78 people dead and an estimated 500 missing, had sailed from Libya.

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