Tunisia’s fishermen save rising tide of migrants

In this image taken from TV Tunisian fisherman Chamseddine Bourrassine paints his boat in Zarzis Tunisia Monday Aug. 5, 2014. Zarzis is like many other costal towns in Tunisia, it relies heavily on it’s fishing industry, which employs many of the local men.The fishermen are netting a catch of a different kind too – migrants who attempt to cross the waters, trying to get in to Europe by sea. Many of these migrants have their sights set on a better life, fleeing conflicts in their home countries. (AP Photo/Associated Press Television) (Credit: AP)

By BENJAMIN WIACEK and GREG KELLER

ZARZIS, Tunisia (AP) — The fishermen of this small North African port are used to catching sea bass and sea bream in their nets, but lately they’ve been hauling in something else: shipwrecked migrants fleeing war-ravaged Libya on flimsy boats.

Chamseddine Bourassine, a Tunisian fisherman in his 50s, and his colleagues are on the front lines of a growing humanitarian disaster as waves of migrants take to the sea bound for Italy. They do their best to save who they can, but Bourassine says they’re quickly being overcome by this year’s flood of African and Middle Eastern migrants seeking a new life in Europe.

The fishermen, who are risking both their lives and livelihoods to rescue the migrants, often cite a saying by the Prophet Muhammad: “Who saves a life, saves all of humanity.”

“Today I have the means to bring back 107 people, but I’ll lose 3,000 Tunisian dinars ($1,750),” Bourassine says. “Tomorrow I might not be able to. I have people who work with me. If I interrupt work once, twice, three times, it becomes a heavy burden on my shoulders.”

He estimates he has saved more than 1,000 migrants on four separate occasions while out in his fishing boat, twice since the Libyan uprising in 2011.

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