Tunisia moves hundreds of migrants from desolate border area

Two migrants found dead near Tunisia's border with Algeria

A migrant holds a placard for peace during a gathering in Sfax, on Tunisia's eastern coast, on Friday. AP
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Hundreds of migrants suffering in intense heat and poor living conditions at a desolate Sahara military area on Tunisia's border have been moved to shelters in two towns, a rights group said on Tuesday.

Migrants had fled or been forced out of Tunisia's southern port city of Sfax after tensions linked to a July 3 killing have grown in the city.

Many of them were moved to the military site on the border with Libya in early July, and the government was criticised over conditions.

Sfax is a hub for traffickers organising risky boat journeys across the Mediterranean to Italy.

International rights groups said measures introduced by Tunisian President Kais Saied in response to the increased numbers of migrants were endangering lives.

“Hundreds of people who were on the Libyan border were transferred finally to shelter centres in Medenine and Tataouine towns after difficult times they spent there in the intense heat,” Ramadan Ben Omar, an official at the non-governmental Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, told Reuters.

Two migrants found dead

The bodies of two migrants have been found near Tunisia's border with Algeria in the past 10 days, AFP said on Tuesday.

The bodies were discovered in the Hazoua desert near Algeria's border, Nizar Skander, court spokesman for the southeastern Tozeur district, told AFP. The first was found 10 days ago and the second was discovered on Monday night, he said.

“Both bodies are of men and rescuers have recovered the one found yesterday,” a witness said.

Mr Skander said authorities have launched an investigation to determine the cause of the two deaths.

Violence between migrants and residents has grown since a 40-year-old Tunisian man was fatally stabbed on July 3 in clashes between locals and sub-Saharan African migrants in Sfax, almost 300km from the capital.

A day later, a young man was fatally shot with a rifle in the Tunisian town of Sbeitla as police tried to arrest a local businessman suspected of running an illegal gambling operation. The death triggering clashes between angry youths and police.

On Sunday, a migrant boat sank off the Tunisian coastline. The coastguard retrieved one body, with 11 people rescued and 10 others declared missing.

Irregular migration to Europe is up about 12 per cent in 2023, according to data from Europe's border agency in May, and has more than doubled in the central Mediterranean region.

Tunisia's migration policies have come into question just weeks after the EU offered the Tunisian government $1 billion to help its economy and improve border control.

A 29-year-old man from Ivory Coast told AP on Tuesday that he and 100 others trapped in the border zone have been transferred to Medenine, where they are now sleeping in a courtyard.

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.

He accused the Tunisian National Guard of beating them “like animals, like slaves,” and assaulting women in the group. He claimed that Libyan security at the border fired shots into the air to keep the civilians at bay.

Updated: July 11, 2023, 2:50 PM