After clashes with residents of the Tunisian port of Sfax, hundreds of African migrants have fled into the desert in recent days or been forcibly driven there. As witnesses report, the people are now holding out under catastrophic conditions in a desert region on the Libyan and Algerian borders.
NGOs say hundreds have been taken in buses to the desert areas near the borders with Libya and Algeria. Many of the people entered Tunisia from these two countries.
“We have nothing to eat or drink. We are in the desert,” Issa Kone, 27, told AFP. He said he was taken on a bus near the Algerian border with dozens of other migrants from Sfax. “National Guard agents caught us after breaking into our home,” Kone said.
This was preceded by the funeral of a 41-year-old Tunisian who was stabbed to death on Monday during clashes between residents and migrants in Sfax. The incident had caused outrage. Residents said they were fed up with the presence of migrants in the city.
Sfax is one of the ports of departure for refugees from African countries who leave the Tunisian Mediterranean coast in boats for Europe. The second largest city in Tunisia is around 130 kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Thousands of African migrants are staying in Sfax. Residents complain about their behavior. The migrants, in turn, say they are exposed to racist harassment by residents.
Last month, citizens called for the migrants to be deported on the grounds that Sfax should not become a city of refugees. Hundreds of Africans have died off the coast in recent months when their boats sank. The bodies washed up on the city’s beaches.
Tunisia is under pressure from Europe to stop migrants from leaving its shores. However, President Kais Saied has said his country will not take on the role of border guard.
Tunisia is in an economic crisis. The North African country has fallen out with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is in danger of slipping into insolvency. Saied dissolved parliament by decree in July 2021 and pushed through a constitution that puts all essential powers in his hands. The opposition speaks of a coup d’etat.
uh/hf (afp, rtr)