Libyan border guards rescue dozens of migrants left stranded in Tunisian desert

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Libyan border guards have rescued dozens of migrants they say had been left in the desert by Tunisian authorities without water, food or shelter, AFP correspondents reported Sunday.

Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan African countries were forcibly taken to desert and hostile areas bordering Libya and Algeria after racial unrest in early July in Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city.

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The migrants were visibly exhausted and dehydrated, sitting or lying on the sand and using shrubs to try and shield themselves from the scorching summer heat that topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), the correspondents said.

The group of at least 80 migrants was found in an uninhabited area close to Al-Assah, a town near the Tunisia-Libya border, nearly 150 kilometres (93 miles) west of Tripoli.

The Libyan border agents gave them water and took the migrants -- women and children first -- to a shelter, the correspondents said.

In a video shared on the Facebook page of the Libyan unit patrolling the border, one officer can be heard saying: “Do you see them? It’s sad. They are being expelled from Tunisia to Libya.”

“We found another group with children and women,” added the officer, pointing towards the Tunisian border several hundred metres (yards) away.

The video also shows a migrant rescued from the border area on Saturday, saying that “Tunisian police deported us to Libya”.

Without help from the Libyan border guards, “we would die in the desert,” the man said, adding he would like to return to Tunisia where his wife and children remain.

Hundreds of migrants fled or were forced out of Tunisia’s Sfax after racial tensions flared following the July 3 killing of a Tunisian man in an altercation between locals and migrants.

The port of Sfax is a departure point for many migrants from impoverished and violence-torn countries seeking a better life in Europe by making a perilous Mediterranean crossing, often in makeshift boats.

Tunisian rights groups said on Friday that between 100 and 150 migrants, including women and children, were still stuck on the border with Libya.

The Tunisian Red Crescent said it has provided shelter to more than 600 migrants who had been taken after July 3 to the militarized zone of Ras Jedir north of Al-Assah on the Mediterranean coast.

In Tunisia’s west, near the Algerian border, about 165 migrants abandoned near the border with Algeria had been picked up, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) said on Friday, without specifying by whom or where they were taken.

FTDES spokesman Romdane Ben Amor said migrants on Algeria’s border could die if they are not immediately given aid and shelter, noting that the bodies of two had already been found.

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