Geneva - The African Union must intervene immediately to stop the grave violations committed by the Tunisian authorities against migrants, which have resulted in several deaths in recent days, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement.
Euro-Med Monitor expressed shock over Tunisian authorities’ continued expulsion and deportation of hundreds of migrants to the Libyan border, forcing them to walk long distances in the desert with no food or water in temperatures as high as 50°C. The organisation gathered and documented testimonies of expelled migrants who reached Libya after a perilous journey through the desert.
Some migrants said that Tunisian security forces stopped them, confiscated their passports and other official documentation, and then forced them to burn the documents. Afterwards, the Tunisian forces transferred the migrants to an outpost on the Libyan border, where they spent the night in deplorable humanitarian conditions before being forced to leave Tunisian soil.
Migrants reported being subjected to verbal abuse and violent assaults by Tunisian border guards, who piled them into a small space for long hours, unleashed police dogs on them, beat them with fists and iron batons, and shot at a very close range for intimidation purposes, as well as tormented them psychologically.
Euro-Med Monitor reviewed several video clips taken by members of the Libyan Border Guards of dozens of migrants on the Libyan-Tunisian border in a dire humanitarian situation. The videos show the bodies of several migrants, including women and children, who died of dehydration at the border. The victims’ bodies were transferred to nearby hospitals by Libyan authorities.
The Libyan Ministry of Interior announced on Monday that it discovered the bodies of five migrants near the border town of Al Assa, and that it had followed legal procedures and notified the relevant authorities.
The vast majority of migrants deported from Tunisia are from countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The expulsion campaign has escalated following the violence that erupted in early July between the migrants and locals in Sfax, which resulted in the killing of a young Tunisian, the injury of dozens of migrants, and the exposure of migrants to reprisals including detention, torture, humiliation, and forced expulsion.
“The forced expulsion of migrants by Tunisian authorities in lethal circumstances may amount to killing, and should be treated as such,” said Ama Gyambrah, a researcher at Euro-Med Monitor who focuses on African migrants and asylum seekers.
“Tunisian authorities not only carried out racially-motivated campaigns of mass expulsion against migrants,” said Gyambrah, “but also pushed them towards the Libyan border in a flagrant violation of Tunisia’s legal and moral obligations, which require them to protect migrants and safeguard them from being subject to ill-treatment.”
Gyambrah emphasised the importance of filing a case against Tunisian authorities before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for serious violations against migrants, given that Tunisia is one of eight African countries that recognise the court’s jurisdiction to receive complaints directly from non-governmental organisations and individuals.
Euro-Med Monitor stressed the gravity of ensuring that Libyan authorities adhere to human rights standards in receiving and protecting migrants arriving from Tunisia, and that concerned humanitarian and relief organisations in Libya respond with urgency to migrants’ humanitarian needs by making every effort to provide food, water, shelter, and medical care for those in need.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, an organ of the African Union, must assume responsibility towards the illegal policies pursued by Tunisian authorities and work with the relevant authorities to end the violations against migrants.
The UN Human Rights Council must form a specialised fact-finding committee to investigate Tunisian authorities’ practices against migrants, including identifying those responsible for the forced mass expulsion campaigns that have resulted in the deaths of several migrants forced to cross the desert to the Libyan border in record-high temperatures with no food or water.