The West African states of Guinea and Ivory Coast are repatriating hundreds of their citizens from Tunisia, officials said Wednesday, after Tunisian President Kais Saied triggered a storm by accusing sub-Saharan migrants of crime.
"The most urgent thing is to save lives, to prevent injuries," said Ivorian government spokesman Amadou Coulibaly on announcing the launch of repatriation efforts.
Ivory Coast's national carrier, Air Cote d'Ivoire, is being tasked to aid in returning some 500 citizens, Coulibaly said.
The operation could take place within the next 72 hours.
A Guinean foreign ministry official declared that the authorities had leased an aircraft to bring about 50 Guineans in Tunisia who said they wanted to return home.
The information was confirmed by a senior official at the Conakry airport.
The president's office issued a statement earlier, saying that Foreign Minister Morissanda Kouyate was heading to Tunisia aboard a government aircraft "to provide urgent support for Guineans" there.
This is Guinea's first repatriation flight since Saied ordered security forces to take "urgent measures" against "hordes" of sub-Saharan African migrants, accusing them without evidence of causing a wave of crime and plotting to change the country's demographic make-up.
Many of the estimated 21,000 sub-Saharan African migrants in Tunisia -- most of whom are irregular -- have lost their jobs and housing overnight.
Others have been stopped by police, and some have reported physical attacks.
Dozens of migrants have flocked to their embassies, particularly those of Ivory Coast and Mali, asking to return home.
Several countries have announced repatriation flights for volunteer returnees.
But there have been delays due to penalties the migrants must pay, which often exceed 1,000 euros ($1,070), an Ivorian diplomat said.