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Libya border guards rescue migrants left in desert by Tunisia

July 17, 2023 at 11:32 am

Tunisian security forces check vehicles near the border crossing with Libya on 17 April 2019 [AFP/FATHI NASRI/ Getty]

Libyan border guards say they have rescued migrants left in the desert without food or water, AFP reported over the weekend.

Roughly 80 people were found in the town of Al-Assah, some 150 kilometres west of Tripoli, and were exhausted and dehydrated in temperatures of 40 degrees.

AFP said that the Libyan border agents gave them water and took them to a shelter.

The news comes after a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report revealed that Tunisian security forces have been forcibly expelling several hundred black African migrants and asylum seekers since the start of July from Sfax to a militarised border zone between Tunisia and Libya.

Sfax is a Tunisian port town close to the island of Lampadusa in Italy and hundreds of people have gathered here in recent weeks hoping to make the journey to Europe and escape rising racism in the country.

READ: ‘Life for black people in Tunisia 5 months after the president’s racist speech has been incredibly challenging’

Attacks on black Africans in Tunisia have increased and worsened since February, when the president announced immigration was a plot aimed at changing Tunisia’s demography.

A group was also taken by bus from Sfax and dumped on the border with Algeria. The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights has said migrants on the border could die if they are not given shelter and aid.

The bodies of two people have already been recovered.

People who spoke to HRW said that they were arrested in police and military raids; some of them were raped, others beaten. Their mobile phones and their food were thrown away.

Video footage of people in the desert shows their bodies covered in wounds, one with a broken ankle. “All of this was done by the Tunisian army. All of this. All of it was done by the Tunisians,” one of them said.

Migrants in the city said they had been robbed, threatened with knives and had stones thrown at them. Many are sleeping in public parks.

Rights groups say the expulsions violate international law, yet the president has dismissed criticism, saying instead that refugees have received humane treatment from “our values”.

Humenta, an NGO based in Medjez El Bab, has raised over 47,000 TD ($15,500) which they will put towards a humanitarian convoy taking essential items including nappies, food and first aid kits to people in Sfax.