An impressive "Zuwara Fleet"


While the numbers of people on the move from Tunisia arriving in Italy drastically decreased since End of September 2023, an increasing traffic can be observed from western Libya, including the phenomenon of crowded big fishing vessels

Looking to the record number and statistics of boat arrivals in Italy in 2023 we can see that in comparison to the departures from Libya a double number of refugees and migrants started from Tunisia. Until end of November 2023 about 50.000 people reached from Libya, but about 100.000 from Tunisia. The peak point was the 12th of September, when 112 boats landed in Lampedusa on one single day, most of them coming via Sfax.

In the following weeks and in the months of October and November the arrivals drastically decreased from Tunisia. Obviously the Tunisian government - although its president Kais Saied officially refused to become the gatekeeper for Europe - decided for massive repressions and continuous human rights violations against transit migrants. Brutal push backs on sea and raids on beaches were extended and deportations to the desert have been executed. Also with strong border controls and with arrests of alleged smugglers the dynamics of sea crossing from Tunisian coasts were broken, at least for the following months.

In all October 2023 in Lampedusa less than 10 boats reached from Tunisia, in November again "only" a few dozens of Tunisian arrivals. But while the Meloni government and their EU-allies probably got satisfied by this cut, they might have been surprised or newly shocked by a simultaneous development. In the very same time the route from Western Libya became highly vivid again. In October more than 130 boats arrived in Italy from Libya and mainly from the coastal cities between Sabratah and Abu Kammash to Lampedusa. Additionally a number of boats were rescued by the civil fleet. In November even nearly 200 boats reached Italy from Libya including a long time not seen phenomenon: the landing of big fishing vessels with 200 to nearly 600 people on board.

On 20st of October - in the middle of many arrivals of small and middle seize boats - a bigger vessel with 245 people reached Lampedusa. Five days later the next one came with 347 people, and on 31st of October 426 people in one boat. In November this development went on: even 531 people reached in a fishing vessel on 4th of November, then 220 on 11.11.23. On 16.11.23 a boat with 430 people were intercepted by Libyan militias, but on 20st of November again a boat with 570 people arrived in Lampedusa and on 27th of November another two big boats on the same day: one with 259 and one with 573 people.

Interesting is not only that in total 3601 people arrived in only eight vessels, but also the mixed composition. Refugees and migrants from up to nine different countries of origin were crossing in the same boat, no matter if coming from North- and East-Africa or from Asia. As particular example we can look to the 4th of November landing with refugees and migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, India, Palestine, Morocco, Libanon and Ethiopia in one vessel.

While most of these vessels according official information should have started from or near Zuwara, it does not make much sense to speculate about the background structures and the involvement of militias in the again increased smuggling business from Western Libya.

In Lampedusa end of November still the eight big fishing vessels are towed at the arrival pier and near the commercial harbour. After the "summer of migration in the central med" was characterized by hundreds of small iron boats from Sfax, now in late autumn these huge empty metal ships from Zuwara testify another type of mass arrivals.