Tunisia takes back hundreds of migrants trapped in a border zone with Libya

AP , Tuesday 11 Jul 2023

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 for a week there without access to basic necessities, according to aid agencies.

Ivory coast
In this photo taken by 29-year-old migrant from the Ivory Coast, a group of sub-Saharan Africans is seen stranded on a beach allegedly at the Tunisian-Libyan border on Thursday 6 July 2023. AP


The group was driven out earlier this month amid a spike in anti-migrant tensions linked to a killing in the Tunisian port city of Sfax, a hub for traffickers organizing risky and sometimes deadly boat journeys across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.

One such boat sank on Sunday off the Tunisian coast. Coast guard officers retrieved one body, rescued 11 people and declared 10 others as missing, the Sfax prosecutor’s office said.

The fate of hundreds of migrants pushed into the Tunisia-Libya border region drew concern from international humanitarian groups and calls for action. It also raised questions about Tunisia's migration policies, weeks after the European Union offered Tunisia’s government $1 billion to help its slumping economy — and to beef up border services to stop migrant boats from crossing to Europe.

A 29-year-old man from Ivory Coast who was among those trapped in the border zone said Tuesday that he and 100 others have been transferred away from the border to the Tunisian inland town of Medenine, where they are now sleeping in a courtyard.

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

The man said uniformed men had taken migrants from their homes in Sfax in the middle of the night in early July and brought them to the border.

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

The move comes under the directive of Tunisian President Kais Saied who on Sunday ordered the Red Crescent to bring aid to the migrants. 

Three people needing medical aid were transferred to a local hospital, including a pregnant woman, Chabou told local broadcaster Radio Mosaique on Monday. He said 195 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa 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 blocked in the border zone were being gradually transferred to various regions of Tunisia.

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

The Tunisian Human Rights League called for a crisis center to address the tensions in Sfax.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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