Bodies of migrants found at Tunisia-Algeria border

The bodies of two migrants have been found in a desert region near Tunisia’s border with Algeria, a judicial official and a witness said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan countries have fled or been forced out of Tunisia’s port city of Sfax after racial tensions flared following the 3 July killing of a Tunisian man in an altercation between locals and migrants.

Many have been left to fend for themselves in harsh conditions in remote desert areas near Tunisia’s borders with Algeria and with Libya.

Around 10 days ago one body was found in the Hazoua desert, near Algeria’s border, and another was discovered on Monday night, Nizar Skander, a spokesman for the court in the southeastern Tozeur district, told AFP.

“Both bodies are of men, and rescuers have recovered the one found yesterday,” a witness, who declined to be identified for security reasons, added.

The witness, a local merchant, told AFP that in one week two convoys were seen transporting migrants to the desert, with nearly 100 left in the vicinity of Hazoua.

“Many of these migrants are trying to reach oases in the area where residents give them food and water,” the witness said.

Skander said the authorities have launched a “dubious death” investigation to determine the exact cause of the two fatalities.

Youssouf Bilayer, 25, of Ivory Coast, told AFP on Tuesday that he was arrested on 4 July in Sfax where he had worked for four years as a welder and was taken to the Gafsa area near the border with Algeria.

“We were in six buses and they left us in the forest – they made us get out by beating us,” he said. His group of six people was now moving northwards.

‘Suffering a lot’
“We want out of here and to be taken to Tunis or Sfax,” he said, adding that they were 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Kasserine.

“We are suffering a lot. We were able to find a little water in the forest, but we’ve got nothing to eat. The police won’t let people give us food, all we can do is charge our phones a little,” Bilayer said.

He said that when they try to continue their journey the police turn them back towards the forest and the border with Algeria.

“This has already happened five times,” he said.

The crackdown on migrants in Sfax – a departure point for many hoping to reach Europe – erupted after the funeral of the 41-year-old Tunisian man who had been stabbed to death.

Aid and rights groups have called for the stranded migrants to be helped as a matter of urgency.

According to Human Rights Watch, many migrants near the border with Algeria “risk their lives” if they are not provided with immediate assistance.

The watchdog estimates that there are between 150 and 200 migrants in that region.

Several days ago HRW carried a report quoting witnesses as saying that “several” migrants had died near the Algerian border.

Mamadou, a migrant from Guinea who gave only his first name, spoke to AFP on Monday by phone from the Algerian side of the border.

“Please help us. If you can send the Red Cross here, help us, otherwise we will die. There is nothing here. There’s no food, there’s no water,” he said.

He could not be reached again by phone on Tuesday.

Tunisia has seen a rise in racially motivated attacks after President Kais Saied in February accused “hordes” of undocumented migrants of bringing violence to the country, and alleging a “criminal plot” to change its demographic make-up.

Source: The New Arab