Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, including women and children, are stranded in difficult conditions at the border between Tunisia and Libya after being abandoned there by the Tunisian authorities, according to testimonies collected by AFP on Wednesday.
“We are not animals.” Hundreds of African migrants, including women and children, have been stranded for several weeks at the border between Libya and Tunisia after being abandoned there by the Tunisian authorities, according to testimonies collected on Wednesday, July 26th.
Approximately 140 sub-Saharan African nationals, who claim to have been there for three weeks, have set up a makeshift camp on the edge of a salt marsh, just 30 meters from the Libyan border post in Ras Jedir (in northern Libya).
Without clean water or food, except for a small amount of aid provided sparingly, women, including some pregnant women, men, and children try to endure the heat during the day and the cold at night, on a sun-drenched and wind-swept strip of desert land. They often try to cool off by bathing in brackish water.
Following clashes that cost the life of a Tunisian on July 3rd, hundreds of Africans were arrested by the Tunisian authorities in Sfax. According to NGOs, they were then transported and abandoned in inhospitable areas near Libya to the east, and Algeria to the west.
According to Libyan border guards and testimonies collected by AFP, two other groups, each consisting of about a hundred people, are in the border area between Libya and Tunisia.
Fatima, a 36-year-old Nigerian, ended up in Ras Jedir with her husband, separated from their three-year-old child who remained in Sfax, the main departure point for clandestine migration to Europe. “I haven’t seen my baby in three weeks,” she lamented. “The Tunisian soldiers brought us here. We have no phone or money. Nothing. They took everything from us.”
“We don’t know where we are. We are suffering here, without food and water,” George, a 43-year-old Nigerian, confided to AFP in Ras Jedir. “The Libyans won’t let us enter their territory and the Tunisians won’t let us return. We are stuck in the middle. Please, help us! Or send a rescue ship,” he pleaded, addressing European countries.
Chanting “Black lives matter!”, he was joined by other Africans, one of whom was holding a sign that read: “The Tunisian government is slowly killing us. We need help,” and also “We are not animals.”
Over the past ten days, Libyan border guards have provided shelter for several hundred migrants found wandering in the desert near Al-Assah, south of Ras Jedir, where at least five bodies have been discovered. The stranded migrants in Ras Jedir share the little food and water provided to them by the Libyans through the local Red Crescent.
“Women and young girls are struggling in these conditions. (…) A few days after we arrived here, the Libyan Red Crescent brought us some tarps,” which are inadequate for protection against the scorching sun, explained Moubarak Adam Mohamad to AFP, urging “regional and international organizations” to evacuate them.
“I was arrested by the police in Sfax and forcibly brought here,” said a 24-year-old young man, who said he fled war-torn Sudan to seek refuge first in Libya, then in Tunisia before being “raided with everyone else”. “The Tunisian army and police are stationed there to prevent people from returning to Tunisia,” he said.
A total of 1,200 Africans have been “expelled” since early July by the Tunisian police to the border areas with Libya and Algeria, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch.
Subsequently, the Tunisian Red Crescent went to rescue around 600 on the Libyan side, and several hundred on the Algerian side, who were distributed in accommodation centers.
In a statement, Médecins du Monde called on Wednesday for “the Tunisian authorities to facilitate access for national and international civil society organizations to the areas where people displaced by the security forces in July are located,” recalling that “these people are in a situation of great vulnerability.”