Tensions are rising dangerously in the Tunisian port city of Sfax with the killing this week of a Tunisian reportedly by migrants, reports of retaliation and mass expulsions, and testimony by sub-Saharan African migrants who said security forces dumped hundreds of men, women and children on the border with Libya.
Tunisian security forces put some migrants in shelters to avoid vengeance attacks, while some 200 others headed to the Sfax train station to escape to Tunis, the capital, according to Radio Mosaique.
The fate of hundreds more was grimmer.
Migrants reported being taken to an isolated beach near Libya's border with armed men from both countries on each side.
A 29-year-old man from Ivory Coast said he was among 600 sub-Saharan migrants caught in what he described as a “no-man's land” between the Mediterranean Sea and the Tunisian-Libyan land border near Ben Guerdane.
The man, who spoke to The Associated Press in a video call and shared his GPS location via WhatsApp, said he was intercepted Saturday evening _ two days before the death of the Tunisian _ as he waited in a safe house to board a small boat to Italy.
More migrants were taken from their homes in Sfax in the middle of the night in the following days, he claimed.
Sfax, on Tunisia’s eastern coast, is a main departure point for migrants and refugees planning to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Thousands of people, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, have poured into the city to set out in unprecedented numbers for dangerous crossings to Italy in small boats.
The name of the man, who said he entered Tunisia legally in 2019 and worked on a golf course, is being withheld for safety reasons.
Uniformed and armed men subsequently transferred his group to several police stations and National Guard bases before being dropped on the beach Sunday, he said.
The man spoke to the AP Wednesday and Thursday surrounded by other Black migrants including women and small children.
He accused the Tunisian National Guard of beating them and assaulting women in the group.
He also claimed that Libyan security at the border fired shots into the air to keep them at bay.
A drone flew over them Thursday morning, he added.
Hostility towards Black migrants in Tunisia has been on the rise in recent months following remarks by Tunisian President Kais Saied in which he ordered a crackdown on sub-Saharan Africans.
They also come at the heel of a series of visits by European leaders pledging 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion) in financial aid to rescue the North African country's crumbling economy and keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.