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Fishermen save rising tide of migrants

Published:Monday | August 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM

ZARZIS (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 (US$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.

Bourassine and other fishermen don't take any rewards for saving the migrants and he understands why they are trying to leave. But he says it's not his job to save them and he feels there's been a lack of support from rescue organisations and governmental authorities.