Tunisia: Refuge for hundreds of migrants expelled to the desert

The NGO Human Rights Watch said several hundred migrants expelled from Sfax to the desert had been sheltered on Monday in towns in southern Tunisia.

However, two migrants were found dead in desert areas on the border between Tunisia and Algeria, according to a Tunisian court spokesman and witness.

Several hundred migrants, left behind in a desert area on the border between Tunisia and Libya after being evacuated from the city of Sfax last week, were sheltering in towns in southern Tunisia on Monday (10 July).

But NGOs are concerned about the fate of dozens of others pushed back to the Algerian border, while at least two migrants have been found dead in recent days in areas on the Tunisia-Algeria border.

“All the 500 to 700 migrants who were at the border with Libya have been transferred elsewhere,” Salsabil Chellali, head of the NGO Human Rights Watch in Tunis, told AFP.

After clashes that claimed the life of a Tunisian, dozens of migrants were driven out of Sfax, which has become the main entry point for irregular immigration to Europe. And were taken by the authorities, according to NGOs, to inhospitable border areas with Libya and Algeria.

“A first body was found at least ten days ago in the Hazoua desert (near the Algerian border, ed. note) and another last night,” Nizar Skander told AFP on Tuesday, July 11. – words from the court in Tozeur in the south-east of Tunisia, which “opened an investigation for suspicious death”.

“It was two young men, the civil protection came to look for him, who were found yesterday,” the witness, a local businessman who requested anonymity, told AFP.

Those picked up by the Tunisian authorities at the Libyan border, in the militarized buffer zone of Ras Jedir, were divided into several groups, according to NGOs and the media. “One group is in Medenine at a high school guarded by the security forces,” the HRW official said.

“Violent arrests and forced evictions”

An AFP correspondent saw another contingent arrive in Ben Guerdane, also housed there in a secondary school under the control of security forces. A dozen exhausted and dehydrated migrants had to be hospitalized in that town, while others were taken by bus to Tataouine and Gabès, according to media reports.

The Tunisian association Beity for assistance to female victims of violence had on Monday launched an urgent appeal to other NGOs and public institutions to “coordinate and pool resources” to provide emergency aid to sub-Saharan migrants “deported to the gates of the Sahara”. “.

For HRW’s Salsabil Chellali, “it is a relief to know that they were able to leave the border area to Libya, but many other people deported near the Algerian border risk their lives if they are not immediately rescued”. According to HRW, they would be at least 150 to 200 in this situation.

“Please help us, if you can send the Red Cross here, help us, otherwise we will die, there is nothing here, there is no food, there is no water,” Mamadou, a Guinean, testified to AFP. According to him, about thirty of them are left to their fate in a desert area near the Algerian village of Douar El Ma, close to the Tunisian border.

In a press release, the refugee aid organization Refugees International condemned “the violent arrests and forced deportations of hundreds of black African migrants” in Sfax, stressing that some were nevertheless “registered with the High Commissioner for Refugees or have a legal status in Tunisia”.

Increasingly openly xenophobic discourse

The World Organization Against Torture in Tunisia (OMCT), for its part, announced that it had seized the UN Committee against Torture to condemn the specific case of “VF, a migrant of sub-Saharan origin deported to the border between Tunisia and Libya on July 2” after being arrested without reason and “beaten with an iron rod at security posts” in Ben Guerdane.

This mistreatment, as well as the deprivation of water and food for “more than 700 migrants” held in the buffer zone, “imposed by state agents on the VF and other migrants because of their racial background in order to force them to leave the territory, constitutes torture” , OMCT added.

An increasingly openly xenophobic discourse against these migrants has spread since Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed condemned illegal immigration in February, presenting it as a demographic threat to his country, which is plagued by a worsening socio-economic crisis , since he assumed full powers in July 2021.

On Saturday, he condemned “lies spread on social networks” and confirmed that migrants in Tunisia received “humane treatment in accordance with our values, contrary to what is said in colonial circles and among the agents working in their service.”, according to a press release from the presidency.

On Monday night, in a new press release, he estimated that “Tunisia has given a lesson to the world with the way it has taken care of these migrants”, adding, however, that it “refuses to be a replacement home country for them and will only accept the which is in an ordinary situation”.


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