Tunisian rescuers have retrieved the bodies of 27 migrants whose boats sank in the Mediterranean, as the European Union offered Thursday to double its aid to Tunisia's poorest regions.
Many European voters are worried about an influx of North African immigrants following uprisings that have destabilized Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Thousands of immigrants have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, not far from Tunisia's shores.
Tunisia's state news agency TAP said the 27 victims whose bodies were found this week had sought to leave the Tunisian city of Sfax in two boats. The boats hit rough weather and failed to signal to rescuers when they started sinking.
The migrants were between 19 and 43 years old, TAP reported Thursday, citing the Interior Ministry. It was unclear how many people survived.
A surge of migrants has sought to leave Tunisia in the two months since hard-line President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in a popular uprising and the end of his police state that kept the borders more tightly controlled.
The EU's enlargement chief, Stefan Fule, said in Tunis on Thursday that the bloc is ready to double its aid for development in Tunisia from euro160 million ($227.3 million) to euro320 million ($454.6 million) over the next two years.
The aid is aimed at boosting civil society in a country that was under one-party rule for half a century _ and at promoting economic development in the poorer regions of central and southern Tunisia, away from the coastal regions that are popular with European tourists.
Fule and EU Internal Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom met Tunisian officials and visited the Tunisian-Libyan border, where camps house masses of refugees who fled fighting in Libya.