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Young Tunisians risk their lives on journeys to European dreamland

TUNIS (Xinhua) -- The grief over the loss of his loved one showed no signs of abating two months on as Rached Dermouli, 56, tearfully recalled his young son’s tragic drowning on an illegal migration trip to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.

His 23-year-old son, Nader Dermouli, was traveling from Kerkennah island in the eastern costal province of Sfax to Lampedusa, the largest island among the archipelagoes in the Mediterranean Sea administered by Italy’s Sicily Province. The capsizal on Oct. 8 claimed at least 45 lives.

“My son couldn’t find a job after graduating from high school. Nader learned some skills for repairing cars and plans to run his own garage,” Dermouli said, adding that his son tried many times to get bank loans but all failed.

Tunisia has witnessed waves of strikes this year, with young people, especially those from the underdeveloped inland areas on the edge of the Sahara desert, demonstrating for jobs and showing their dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to deliver its promises.

Experts said that young Tunisian people are gradually losing confidence in both their destiny and the country’s future in the face of high unemployment rates, soaring prices, uneven development and the great disparity between the rich and the poor.

Nearly 8,000 Tunisian illegal emigrants have successfully made their way to Italy so far this year, according to a research report by Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights—known as FTDES for its French abbreviation, a civil rights institution with an official background.

According to the report, the number of illegal emigrants particularly skyrocketed in October 2017, 17 times the figure from the same period last year.

Some 40 percent of the illegal emigrants want to go to Europe and nearly two thirds of them are young people in their twenties, the report showed.

“My son Nader even wanted to give up his Tunisian nationality,” Dermouli said.

One survivor of many of Dermouli Jr.’s childhood friends who were also on board the sunken ship told Xinhua that they got information from local informers via online social networking sites. The 25-year-old asked for anonymity.

“Each person pays 3,500 dinars (1,424 U.S. dollars) for the ship trip,” he said, adding that they set off at 2 o’clock in the morning to escape security control and changed from a small trawler to a larger boat and finally boarded the ship to Lampedusa.

“I remember there were nearly 95 people on the ship, very crowded. Suddenly, a naval vessel hit us and our ship overturned and sunk,” the young man said.

According to the FTDES report, about 307 illegal migration operations have been intercepted since January this year.

A 19-year-old who only gave his pseudonym Aymen in an interview with Xinhua is a dealer of an organization conducting illegal migration. “The timing for departure depends on various factors, such as weather conditions, the number of emigrants and police patrols,” the Kerkennah native said.

Aymen said some emigrants had to stay in Kerkennah for over 20 days waiting for a right opportunity. “Fifty dinars (20 dollars) for a single night and 5 dinars (2 dollars) for one baguette,” he added.

According to Ayman, usually more than 10 people live in one bedroom, and there have been extreme cases where 30 people are squeezed into one room.

Dermouli Jr.’s friend was fortunate enough to have survived the dreadful trip. When future chances to reach his dreamland in Europe come, he dares to take them.

“We want job, dignity and freedom. I’ll try again,” he said.

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