Tunisia: what we know about the situation of nearly 300 sub-Saharan exiles stranded at the Libyan border

They are nearly 300 to call for help. Several hundred exiles, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, claim to have been stranded since July 3 in Ras Jedir, a strip of desert land linking Tunisia to Libya, according to testimonies collected on July 26 by AFP.

Franceinfo reviews what we know about their situation, while Tunisia has been experiencing an unprecedented migration crisis for several months.

Extreme conditions and at least five dead, according to NGOs

Several hundred people are therefore blocked by the Tunisian authorities on the border with Libya, the Libyan coast guard told AFP. Women, men and children try to survive in makeshift camps in the absence of drinking water and food, in temperatures approaching 50°C. “We don’t know where we are”, George, a 43-year-old Nigerian, testifies to the news agency. “I haven’t seen my baby for three weeks.deplores Fatima, a 36-year-old Nigerian. We don’t have a phone or money. Nothing. They took everything from us.”

At least five remains have also already been discovered at the border, according to non-governmental organizations. Those of Fati Dosso (20 years old) and his daughter Marie (6 years old) are part of it. They died of thirst on July 25 while trying to reach Libya, reports the organization Refugees in Libya. A day earlier, the account Migrant Rescue Watch relayed the discovery of the body of another woman by the Libyan coast guard. She has not yet been identified.

The situation of these migrants is not isolated. Since the beginning of July, nearly 1,200 people have been expelled and then abandoned at the Algerian or Libyan border by the Tunisian authorities, according to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch. These evacuations were decided after clashes on July 3 between locals and migrants in Sfax, Tunisia’s second city and the main point of departure for illegal emigration to Europe. A Tunisian was stabbed to death by three sub-Saharan migrants, according to the Sfax court and witnesses interviewed on site by RFI.

President Kaïs Saïed was quick to brush aside these accusations of forced displacement. He taxed them with “fake news”, while reaffirming “its position of not being a country of settlement for irregular migrants” and of “only accept the return of Tunisians”, underline The Guardian.

International organizations call for emergency aid

As a first step, international organizations ask for “urgent solutions”, such as “safety” and the “Identification” immigrants there. “This tragedy must end”demanded the UN on July 27, calling for the initiation of a “crucial and vital humanitarian aid while waiting for human solutions to be found”. In Ras Jedir, only the Tunisian Red Crescent and its Libyan counterpart are mobilized, according to testimonies collected by AFP. They brought the migrants water and food, as well as tarpaulins to protect them from the scorching sun.

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The UN particularly insists on the case of “vulnerable migrants”that’s to say “victims of trafficking” And “unaccompanied children”, who need to be redirected and taken care of urgently. It stands ready to assist the authorities in order to resolve the current situation.

For its part, Human Rights Watch calls on European countries to act. In a press release published on July 19, the NGO urges the European Union to no longer finance aid for the fight against illegal immigration in Europe, as long as a “assessment of their impact on human rights” has not been carried out. This request directly echoes the agreement signed between the European Union and Tunisia in mid-July, comprising aid of 105 million euros intended for the fight against irregular immigration. The agreement, which according to Human Rights Watch “does not offer the necessary guarantees to prevent violations of the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers”, plans to send boats, mobile radars, cameras and vehicles this summer, as well as 6,000 “voluntary returns” immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

The alerts issued by Human Rights Watch are based on around twenty testimonies of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa present in Tunisia, who claim to be victims of “serious abuse” from the security forces. “Victims of human rights violations at the hands of the Tunisian authorities“, they denounce “beatings”of the “arbitrary detentions”of the “forced evictions” or “theft of money and personal effects”.

An anti-illegal immigration climate installed by President Kaïs Saïed

These expulsions and the clashes in Sfax are part of an increasingly xenophobic climate in Tunisia, which has spread rapidly since President Kais Saied’s anti-immigration speech on February 21. During this speech, the President described illegal immigration as“criminal enterprise hatched at the dawn of this century to change the demographic composition of Tunisia”, whose aim would be for the country to become “african only” and that it blurs its “Arab-Muslim character”.

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Tunisia has become the main point of departure for exiles wishing to reach Europe. According to the authorities, the phenomenon is growing: 34,290 migrants have already been intercepted and rescued since the beginning of 2023, while there were only around 9,000 in 2022, according to figures provided by the National Guard. Since January, the Coast Guard has recovered nearly 900 bodies of drowned migrants.

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