September 21, 2023

Under pressure, Tunisia is taking back hundreds of migrants trapped in a border area with Libya

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are being transferred back to Tunisia after being pushed into a dangerous no man’s land on the Libyan border and trapped there for a week without access to basic necessities, aid agencies said.

The group was expelled earlier this month amid a spike in anti-migrant and racial-fueled tensions linked to a murder in the Tunisian port city of Sfax, a hub for traffickers who organize risky and sometimes deadly boat trips across the Mediterranean to Italy.

One of those boats sank off the Tunisian coast on Sunday. Coast guards recovered one body, rescued 11 people and reported 10 others missing, the Sfax prosecutor’s office said.

The fate of hundreds of migrants who have crossed into the Tunisia-Libya border region has raised concern among international humanitarian groups and called for action. It also raised questions about Tunisia’s migration policies, weeks after the European Union offered Tunisia’s increasingly authoritarian government $1 billion to help its slumping economy – and to strengthen border services to prevent migrant boats from crossing into Europe. would make.

A 29-year-old man from the Ivory Coast, one of the detainees in the border area, said on Tuesday he and 100 others were transferred from the border to the inland Tunisian town of Medenine, where they now sleep in a courtyard.

Speaking to The Associated Press from the border region last week, he described some 600 sub-Saharan migrants trapped in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Tunisian-Libyan land border near Ben Guerdane.

The man said uniformed men picked up migrants from their homes in Sfax in the middle of the night in early July and brought them to the border. He accused the Tunisian National Guard of beating them “like animals, like slaves” and attacking women in the group. He claimed Libyan security at the border fired shots into the air to keep civilians away.

Under pressure from humanitarian organizations, Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday ordered the Tunisian Red Crescent to provide aid to the migrants. Saied has fueled racism by berating black Africans who travel to Europe via Tunisia.

The head of the Tunisian Red Crescent, Abdellatif Chabou, went to the region to oversee an operation to bring food and water to the migrants and allow them to contact their families.

Three people in need of medical attention were taken to a local hospital, including a pregnant woman, Chabou told local broadcaster Radio Mosaique on Monday. He said 195 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have registered on a Red Crescent list to be transferred back to Tunisia and then to their countries of origin.

The president of the Tunisian Human Rights Observatory, Mustapha Abdelkebir, said a total of 450 migrants detained in the border area were gradually transferred to different regions of Tunisia.

The migrants had no access to basic sanitation and were trapped between forces on both sides of the border, exposed to extreme heat without shelter, Abdelkadir said on Radio Mosaique.

The International Organization for Migration said it was working with Tunisian authorities to ensure humanitarian assistance, calling on Tunisia to “respect the dignity and rights of all migrants” and counter “harmful and negative rhetoric, hate speech and hate crimes” .

The Tunisian League for Human Rights called for a crisis center to deal with tensions in Sfax.

Opposition politician Nejib Chebbi accused the authorities of fanning prejudice and deporting the migrants “because they are black. It is a shame and this will remain a black page in our history.”


Associated Press writer Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed to this report.

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