Libyan authorities have rescued refugees in the desert near Tunisia Refugee Issues

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Libyan border guards have rescued many refugees and migrants who were left in the desert by Tunisian authorities without water or food, and their number is “rising”, said a Libyan official.

“The number of migrants is increasing every day,” Mohamad Abou Snenah, a member of the border control team, said on Sunday, telling the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency that he had rescued “50 to 70 migrants”.

“We give them medical care, first aid, considering the journey they went through in the desert.”

Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina reported on Monday that the number of refugees and migrants rescued by the Libyan army with the help of the United Nations has risen to 191.

Hundreds of Black people from sub-Saharan Africa have been forced into the wilderness and hostile areas on the border between Libya and Algeria after ethnic unrest in early July in Sfax, Tunisia’s second largest city.

Traina, who is from Misrata, Libya, said refugees and migrants were among a large group driven out of Sfax after the riots.

The group was in a deserted area near al-Assah, a town near the Tunisia-Libya border, about 150km (93 miles) west of Tripoli.

“They moved these people into the desert … without water, without food and tried to push them into Libyan territory using tear gas,” Traina said.

Many were left in the “hot desert” for days, he said. Since the start of this eviction, approximately 1,200 people have been evicted.

“When we went and visited the area, … we found about 700 to 800 migrants in the area,” Traina said. “It seems that there may be several groups along the desert on the Tunisian-Libyan border, and they are asking for help, water and food and shelter.”

Tired and dehydrated

An AFP team on the border reported seeing refugees who were exhausted and dehydrated, sitting or lying on the sand and using herbs to try to protect themselves from the summer heat, which reached 40C (104F).

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided them with food, clothing and temporary shelter as well as first aid for the injured, according to the Libyan Ministry of Interior.

In a video released by the ministry, two Nigerian men said they were beaten by Tunisian soldiers and taken with others to a desert area before they were told to cross into Libya.

One man said Tunisian soldiers took their passports and burned them before taking 35 people in one car to the border with Libya.

He said they spent two days in the desert before Libyan border guards found them.

At the reception area, groups of women and children, including small children, slept on mattresses and ate yogurt.

Abou Kouni from the Ivory Coast, who arrived in Tunisia seven years ago, said he was arrested on the road last week and put into a car with his wife.

He said he was beaten on the nose and back and the police threatened to kill him.

The Tunisian police, according to Abou Kouni, “said to throw us in Libya” and told him, “We don’t want Tunisia.”

‘They’ve been kicked out’

Ibrahim, a Congolese man who lived in the Tunisian city of Zarzis, said he was stopped on the road on his way back from work.

He said: “They dropped us in the desert. “We have been in the desert for many days. We saw a shepherd who gave us bread and water.”

Hundreds of refugees and migrants have fled or been forced to leave Tunisia’s Sfax after the ethnic conflict following the July 3 killing of a Tunisian man in a conflict between locals and blacks in sub-Saharan Africa.

The port of Sfax is a destination for many refugees from poor and violent countries who seek a better life in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, often on makeshift boats.

In Libya, people smugglers have long profited from the turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of strongman Muammar Gaddafi, and the country has been accused of abusing refugees.

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

The Tunisian Red Crescent said it had provided shelter to more than 600 people who had been taken since July 3 to the Ras Jedir war zone, the main border with Libya, north of al-Assah on the Mediterranean coast.

In western Tunisia near the border with Algeria, about 165 refugees who were abandoned near the border with Algeria have been picked up, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights said on Friday without specifying who or where they were taken.

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