Migrants queue after disembarking from Open Arms rescue boat after arriving at Messina port, Sicily, Italy. Image Credit: REUTERS file

TUNIS: A goalkeeper at a top-flight Tunisian football club has reached Italy as a clandestine migrant, his club said Friday, as the dire economy pushes thousands into making similar journeys.

“Due to the financial crisis facing the club, and difficult living conditions (in Tunisia), the goalkeeper of Avenir Sportif de Rejiche, Khalil Zaouli, immigrated illegally to Italy,” the club said on its Facebook page.

Zaouli, 19, was a reserve goalkeeper at the club, which is currently bottom of the Tunisian league’s top division.

He last played on February 2, the club said. A spokesperson confirmed to AFP that Zaouli had reached Italy by boat on Thursday.

Tunisia, which at points is less than 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, is a key departure point for Tunisian and other African migrants seeking better lives in Europe.

Tunisia is struggling with a grinding economic crisis that has seen a growing wave of clandestine migration attempts in recent months, involving not just young people frustrated by a lack of jobs, but in some cases whole families.

Rome says more than 32,000 migrants, including 18,000 Tunisians, reached Italy from Tunisia last year, while thousands more have departed from neighbouring Libya.

More than 38,700 migrants were intercepted by the Tunisian authorities in 2022, according to the interior ministry.

The coastguard said there had been a spike in crossing attempts this week due to calm seas.