Migrants / Photo: AFP

At least five African migrants have died, and at least 28 others are missing after four small boats sank off the coast of Tunisia.

The migrants were trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, an official of a local rights group said on Thursday.

Romadan Ben Omar of the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES) said 38 people, mainly from Ivory Coast, were on board the boat.

He said coast guards rescued five of the migrants and recovered five bodies following the accident off the coast of the southern city of Sfax.

The city has recently become a transit hub for migrants from Africa and the Middle East travelling to Europe.

Previously, Libya was the main launch pad for migrants from the region. Deadly boat accidents involving African migrants attempting to reach Europe have become frequent in recent years.

According to the United Nations, more than 20,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since 2014.