You are here

Thousands of migrants living in fields near Tunisia's Sfax

By AFP - Sep 21,2023 - Last updated at Sep 21,2023

SFAX, Tunisia — Thousands of migrants are living without proper shelter north of Tunisia's port city of Sfax after many were driven out of the city, according to aid workers.

Sfax has become a major hub for migrants from Tunisia and other parts of Africa attempting perilous voyages across the Mediterranean, often in rickety boats, in hopes of a better life.

Sfax, Tunisia's second city, was rocked by unrest in July and the forced expulsion of many migrants to remote desert regions, where at least 27 people died.

Now about 3,000 mostly sub-Saharan African migrants are living scattered in olive fields near the sea between Jebiniana and Al Amra, about 30 kilometres north of Sfax.

"I came here to work and earn some money, but I couldn't find any, so I want to go to Europe," Mohamed Kayta, a young man from Mali, told AFP from the area.

In early September, hundreds of migrants began moving to the area when authorities stopped distributing food to the 1,800 migrants who were gathered in the centre of Sfax, said a humanitarian source who asked not to be identified.

Sanogo Sadio, a migrant from the Ivory Coast, said they “have nowhere to sleep” in the area.

“The Africans you see here have one thing on their minds: Crossing the Mediterranean,” he added.

Despite the harsh conditions, the migrants in the area “don’t want to be too visible because this is a zone for clandestine departures”, said the humanitarian source, adding most had recently arrived in Tunisia through Algeria and Libya.

Racial tensions flared in Sfax after the July 3 killing of a Tunisian man following an altercation with migrants.

Humanitarian sources say at least 2,000 sub-Saharan Africans were expelled or forcibly transferred by Tunisian security forces to desert regions bordering Libya and Algeria.

Xenophobic attacks targeting black African migrants and students increased after an incendiary speech in February by President Kais Saied.

He alleged that “hordes” of illegal migrants were causing crime and posing a demographic threat to the mainly Arab North African country.

Hundreds of migrants lost their jobs and housing after his remarks.

At least 27 people died and 73 others were listed as missing after being expelled into desert areas bordering Libya in July.

Tunisia’s national guard said that over the weekend it had thwarted 117 attempted migrant crossings, intercepted or rescued 2,507 migrants and arrested 62 smugglers.

56 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.