Tunisia urged to stop ‘expulsion’ of black African migrants to Libya border
Tunisian security forces have collectively expelled several hundred Black African migrants and asylum seekers, including children and pregnant women, since July 2, 2023 to a remote, militarized buffer zone at the Tunisia-Libya border, Human Rights Watch claims.
The group includes people with both regular and irregular legal status in Tunisia, expelled without due process. Many reported violence by authorities during arrest or expulsion.
“The Tunisian government should halt collective expulsions and urgently enable humanitarian access to the African migrants and asylum seekers already expelled to a dangerous area at the Tunisia-Libya border, with little food and no medical assistance,” said Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Not only is it unconscionable to abuse people and abandon them in the desert, but collective expulsions violate international law.”
Between July 2 and 6, Human Rights Watch interviewed five people by phone who had been expelled, including an Ivorian asylum seeker and four migrants: two Ivorian men, a Cameroonian man, and a 16-year-old Cameroonian girl.
Interviewees’ names are not used for their protection. They could not give an exact number, but estimated that Tunisian authorities had expelled between 500 and 700 people since July 2 to the border area, around 35 kilometers east of the town Ben Guerdane.
They arrived in at least four different groups, ranging in size.
The people expelled were of many African nationalities – Ivorian, Cameroonian, Malian, Guinean, Chadian, Sudanese, Senegalese, and others – and included at least 29 children and three pregnant women, interviewees said.
At least six expelled people were asylum seekers registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), while at least two adults had consular cards identifying them as students in Tunisia.
People interviewed said they had been arrested in raids by police, national guard, or military in and near Sfax, a port city southeast of the capital, Tunis.
National guard and military forces rapidly transported them 300 kilometers to Ben Guerdane, then to the Libya border, where they were effectively trapped in what they described as a buffer zone from which they could neither enter Libya nor return to Tunisia.
Tensions have been high in Sfax for months as Tunisian residents campaigned for African foreigners to leave, escalating to recent attacks against Black Africans and clashes with Tunisians.
A man from Benin was killed in May and a Tunisian man on July 3. Videos circulating on social media in early July depicted groups of Tunisian men threatening Black Africans with batons and knives, and in other videos, security officers shoving Black Africans into vans while people cheered.