The Tunisian coastguard said Thursday it had recovered the bodies of 13 migrants after a shipwreck off Sfax, the port where violent clashes erupted last week between migrants and residents.
A Tunisian rights group warned about the plight of migrants expelled from the port of Sfax, calling for emergency shelters to be set up to accommodate them. Hundreds of migrants fled or were forced out of Tunisia's second-largest city after racial tensions flared following the July 3 killing of a Tunisian man in an altercation between locals and migrants.
According Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesperson of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), "Conditions are very difficult and all scenarios are possible due to the arid climate and inhuman conditions in which sub-Saharan migrants find themselves in Sfax. Hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants are homeless in Sfax. Their number exceeds a thousand people. Other migrants have chosen to hide out in the villages and rural areas around the city of Sfax."
Neïla Zoghlami, chairwoman of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) supported FTDES's notion;
"We received testimonies from sub-Saharan women who were exposed to a lot of violence after the February 21, 2023 speech, and we also received the case of a woman who was raped by four people.
"Last night, units affiliated with the Sfax maritime region thwarted an attempted illegal crossing and rescued 25 sub-Saharan migrants, but 13 bodies were also recovered," the coastguard statement said.
Sfax is the North African country's second largest city and a departure point for migrants seeking to reach European shores across the Mediterranean.
Many attempt the perilous voyage in makeshift boats, and the International Organization for Migration says nearly 2,500 have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean this year alone.
The Italian island of Lampedusa is about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Tunisian coast, and a target destination for many of the attempts.
Last week Sfax was the scene of fierce clashes after a Tunisian resident of the city was stabbed to death in a clash with migrants on July 3.
Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa fled or were forcibly expelled from the city. Rights groups say the authorities took them to remote desert areas near the borders with Libya and Algeria and left them there.
Between 100 and 150 migrants were still stranded at the border with Libya near the militarised zone of Ras Jedir by Thursday evening, according to Human Rights Watch.
They had no access to water, shelter or food, the New York-based watchdog said, though it had earlier indicated that the migrants there had been moved.
On Wednesday, stranded migrants had launched a distress call in a video transmitted to AFP, saying they had children and pregnant women among them.
The Tunisian Red Crescent earlier said it has provided shelter to about 630 migrants stranded at the border with Libya between Sunday and Monday.
HRW said another group of about 200 migrants had been left to fend for themselves at Tunisia's militarised border with Algeria, with rescue teams en route to help them.
Witnesses told AFP convoys had dropped off dozens of migrants in various areas along Tunisia's 1,000-kilometre (600-mile) border with Algeria.
Tunisia has seen a rise in racially motivated attacks after President Kais Saied in February accused "hordes" of undocumented migrants of bringing violence, and alleging a "criminal plot" to change the country's demographic make-up.