Black refugees stranded in Tunisian desert witness death, misery

About 70 refugees, including women and children, are stuck in a ten-metre buffer zone they call ‘point zero’. 

In a desolate area on the Tunisia-Libya border, Black refugees have been waiting in scorching heat without an end in sight.

These refugees were rounded up by Tunisian security forces in the coastal city of Sfax and brought here last week – a remote buffer zone at Tunisia’s border with Libya, with no access to healthcare or any type of humanitarian support.

Hostility to people from sub-Saharan Africa rose after a Tunisian man died in Sfax on July 3. Locals blamed the death on Black refugees, who were then forced to flee the city as violence against them rose.

Three men from Cameroon were arrested in connection with the man’s killing and hundreds of Black refugees have been expelled to the country’s borders, as anger simmered at undocumented migrants.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Tunisian government of collective expulsion and mistreatment of Black African refugees.

“Not only is it unconscionable to abuse people and abandon them in the desert, but collective expulsions violate international law,” said Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Struggling with a large number of asylum seekers, Tunisian authorities have turned on refugees.

This came after President Kais Saeid spoke of a conspiracy to change the country’s racial makeup. His statement last February was followed by racist attacks on Black residents, who started seeking to leave for Europe.

About 70 refugees, including women and children, are stuck in this 10-metre buffer zone they call “point zero”.

Cini Kamada, who is from Sierra Leone and is seven months pregnant, has been in the dangerous border area for a week.

“Even at night, they come [and] beat us. They beat me now. I’m seeing my period [blood] now. I’m very stressed. I don’t know what is going to [happen to] my baby … My baby is not moving anymore. I need a hospital,” she told Al Jazeera.

David, whose two-year-old son is still in Sfax, said Tunisian authorities have been mistreating them.

“They beat us mercilessly trying to push us back here and we refuse because it is not right. They say we should go to point zero,” he told Al Jazeera.

“If they don’t want us, there is no need for them to bring us here. They are supposed to take us to the UN or to the immigration or take us back to our countries.”

There were at least two locations where refugees have remained stranded on the Tunisian-Libyan border, one on the coast, and the other, a few kilometres to the south, in the middle of the desert.

Reporting from the border area, Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina said the conditions were “dire”.

Some people there have tried to take refuge from the sun under trees, but the heat beat down on them, causing one man to faint.

One of the refugees, Ousman Dembely said his brother, Mousa, died two days ago.

“His [dead] body remains [lying] in the desert sun a few hundred metres away,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I can’t bury my brother… he hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves as a human being. We are suffering. No water, no food. It’s my brother today. It will be me or someone else tomorrow. If we don’t get help, we will all die and perish in this place,” Dembely said.

There are hundreds of refugees, expelled from Sfax, stranded along the Tunisian and Libyan border and with little water, food, access to healthcare and shelter, their lives are very much still in the balance.

Source: Al Jazeera