ROME/ZARZIS - As many as 41 migrants drowned after a small boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean, Italian media said Thursday, days after 400 were lost in another shipwreck.

Four survivors told Italian police and humanitarian organisations that their inflatable vessel sank not long after leaving the coast of Libya for Europe with 45 people on board.

According to the men picked up by the Italian navy vessel “Foscari” after they were spotted by an aircraft, the old inflatable boat quickly began losing air forcing the migrants into the water.

The four - a Ghanaian, two Nigerians, and a man from Niger - arrived in Trapani in Sicily on Thursday with 600 other migrants picked up by the Italian navy and coastguards as they tried to make the perilous crossing.

The new tragedy happened as Italian police said they had arrested 15 people over allegations that Christians had been thrown from a migrant boat during an attempted crossing to Italy.

Meanwhile, their rickety boats may have broken down as they tried to sneak into Italy, but for African migrants now stuck in Tunisia their dream of reaching Europe is far from over. Known in North Africa as “harraga”, these illegal migrants biding their time in Red Crescent centres in Zarzis, southeastern Tunisia, realise they are lucky compared to those who died making the crossing.

All of them have given their last penny to greedy people traffickers, endured rough crossings or were left stranded on the highs seas by unscrupulous boat captains. But many say they will try again because they have nothing to lose, especially now that the weather has improved since March and sailing the Mediterranean is easier than during the winter months.

Some have even have found odd jobs and begun to save the money they will need for another crossing, as perilous as it may be. Abdoulay is one of them and swears he will never ever go back to his native Gambia. “I am unemployed... and my goal will always be the same: to live in Europe. So it will be next time,” he says.

The young man was rescued off the Tunisian shores after having spent his life savings on failed a trip to Europe.

Mohamed Trabelsi, an official from the Red Crescent, said “building constructors come by every morning at dawn,” to offer work for those who are willing. He said the migrants are keen and willing to do what it takes to reach Italy, their gateway to Europe. “They will do everything and nothing: work on construction sites, gardening, painting or fishing”.

Italy, where more than 15,000 migrants have arrived this year, has pleaded for help to rescue those risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean after 400 drowned on the weekend.

Many of those stuck in Tunisia come from Gambia, Senegal or Mali, and are hoping to flee conflict and poverty at home to begin a new life in Europe.

Most began their journey in Libya, where the precarious situation has sparked a rise in tattered and overcrowded boats taking off from unpoliced ports.

Often the engines fail miles away from shore or the boat takes on water and capsizes, with hundreds dying. The lucky ones are rescued by coastguards in one of the countries like Tunisia along the way.

One such survivor is Suleiman, 38, from Mali who was among hundreds of migrants plucked out of the sea in March off the coast of Zarzis.

“They told me it was easy to reach Europe from Libya,” said Suleiman who travelled two gruelling months to reach the Libyan port of Zuwarah, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) from Tunisia. “I spent everything I had: 4,000 Libyan dinars (2,770 euros, about $3,000),” said Suleiman, speaking from one of the Red Crescent centres in Zarzis.

Two hours after the boat left port, it began taking on water. “There were too many people on board the zodiac,” he said, adding that he was never told what kind of boat would make the crossing or how many people would travel with him.

Cisse also travelled to Libya from his native Ivory Coast intent on finding a smuggler’s boat to Europe.

He did but, he said, it was “a trip from hell” on a small boat packed with 84 passengers who were pushing and shoving as water started to flood the vessel.

Two drowned while Cisse was among 76 people rescued by Tunisian coastguards five months ago. But the remaining six passengers refused to give up and stayed on board, he said, added that their captain revved the boat and took them to their dream destination - the Italian island of Lampedusa.