Some of the Tunisians trying to cross the border were stranded for weeks | Photo: picture-alliance/ZumaPress
Some of the Tunisians trying to cross the border were stranded for weeks | Photo: picture-alliance/ZumaPress

Hundreds of Tunisians, stuck in Libya, have started to legally cross a Tunisian frontier post, according to Tunisia's interior ministry. The border between the two north African nations had been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

More than 650 Tunisian nationals have already reportedly reached the border post, where, according to Tunisian state media, they will undergo security and health checks before entering Tunisian territory. Upon being granted entrance they will first be sent to quarantine facilities. 

Tunisian nationals began to congregate along the land border near Ras Jedir over the last few days. Their numbers grew so strong that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Red Crescent had to provide emergency relief.

Some eventually pushed their way through — up to 200 people, according to an estimate shared by the al Khaleej Today newspaper. After that, Tunisian border guards opened the gates to let in 652 migrants in a more controlled manner.

Read more: Tunisia worried about situation in Libya, prepares emergency plans

A mass migration movement back home

Many of the migrants had been stranded in Libya for weeks and hundreds still remain behind, the head of the IOM in Libya, Federico Soda, said. 

Soda posted footage of a crowd of people carrying their luggage and other belongings, as they walked across the frontier.

Stranded in the desert 

War-torn Libya is home to thousands of Tunisian migrant workers, who mainly work for the country's oil industry. The two neighboring countries closed their borders in mid-March in a bid to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading.

This left many Tunisians unable to return home, as well as without a source of income, under ongoing lockdown conditions. With the security situation in Libya deteriorating, authorities in Tunisia are expecting more returnees in months to come.

"They have lived in a very difficult situation and have been facing their destiny alone for long days," said Mustafa Abdel Kabir, head of Tunisia's Human Rights Observatory.

With Reuters


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