Tafaul Omar, a 26-year-old nurse from Sudan, was one of the 15 migrants who were arrested by Tunisian authorities and left in the border area with Libya, according to their own accounts.
They said they had to walk for four hours in the scorching desert sun before they were found by a Libyan border patrol that gave them water and food. Omar, who is pregnant, said she was terrified for her unborn baby and cried as she recounted her harrowing experience.
Tunisia denies dumping migrants in the desert amid crackdown
The migrants, who came from Sudan, Senegal, Ghana and Mali, said they were living in Zarziz, a southern Tunisian town near the border with Libya, and saving money to pay smugglers to take them to Italy. They said they were arrested by the police last week and driven to the border, where they were beaten, robbed of their phones and abandoned in the desert.
Tunisia’s Interior Ministry denied these allegations and said that Tunisia did not expel any African immigrants. It said that only those who met the legal conditions for entry into Tunisia were allowed in and that Tunisia was not responsible for what happened outside its borders. It also pointed to the work of Tunisia’s Red Crescent to assist migrants at the border.
Migrants face dangers and hardships in the desert amid COVID-19 pandemic
The migrants’ ordeal is part of a wider problem of migration and human trafficking in North Africa, where thousands of people risk their lives every year to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse, as many countries have closed their borders and imposed strict lockdowns to contain the virus.
The migrants also face the threat of violence, abuse and exploitation by armed groups, smugglers and traffickers in Libya, which has been mired in chaos and conflict since 2011. Omar and her husband Yaseen Adam said they fled their home in Khartoum because of the war that broke out there in April 2023, which killed Omar’s father. They traveled through Chad and Algeria before arriving in Tunisia.