Image: REUTERS/Morgane Wirtz

By Alex Pollock

Hundreds of mainly black, sub-Saharan African migrants are being rescued from the elements of the Sahara Desert between Tunisia and Libya following a ‘mass expulsion’ of migrants from Tunisia. AFP reported that on Sunday 30 July, approximately 100 migrants were rescued from the harsh conditions of the desert. According to humanitarian organisations and migrants who have been removed from Tunisia, migrants are being taken and arrested in Tunisia and sent into the desert region of Al-Assah, 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Tripoli, with little to no resources to help them navigate their next steps. One migrant told Africa News that they were rounded up and told to ‘walk toward Libya.’ The ‘no man’s land’ desert between the borders of Tunisia and Libya often exceeds 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and is notoriously difficult terrain to navigate. In early July, an altercation between black migrants and a Tunisian man that left the Tunisian man dead sparked an increase in racial tensions, specifically in the city of Sfax. Anti-immigrant sentiment in Tunisia was further exacerbated when President Kais Saied made comments in a February speech accusing sub-Saharan migrants of disrupting Tunisia’s demography. Those who do reach Libya are met by another hostile and unstable government without the resources to care for them. Libya’s Tripoli-based government has rejected the idea of resettling migrants coming from Tunisia within its territory. This has left hundreds of migrants no choice but to either remain in the desert or try to navigate the terrain until they reach yet another country. Libyan border officials find the bodies of those who died in the desert nearly every day. Due to the remote locations to which migrants are being sent, it is difficult for aid agencies to reach them with basic resources. Many travel through the desert for days without food or water and are found by border patrol agents in dire condition.

Along with such a grim humanitarian situation for these migrants, they are stuck between two countries (Tunisia and Libya) with little to no Christian presence. Both countries are on the Open Doors World Watch List – a yearly list of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Libya is placed 5th on the list and Tunisia 36th. According to Open Doors, Libya’s prolonged political instability has led to Islamic extremist groups and criminal organisations wielding influence over several communities as there is no central government to maintain order. Christians in Libya face harsh persecution and high levels of violence, making it very difficult to reach out to others with their faith. The dangers presented in Libya for Christians prevent outreach to migrants and those who are suffering in the desert regions. The global Church can pray for breakthrough in Libya’s political deadlock for the sake of the locals and the thousands of migrants who find themselves in the country.

In Tunisia, most of the small Chrisitan population is made up of foreigners, as locals who convert from Islam to Christianity also face severe persecution. The overall health of Tunisian society has been declining, and instances of violence, especially against black migrants, are increasing. With a population that is 99% Muslim, Tunisia is another country that the Church can pray for, that the Lord’s light would shine in the darkness.

The head of Tunisia’s largest trade union, Noureddine Taboubi, has called on Western nations to help stem the flow of migration into Tunisia and Libya by being more proactive in helping sub-Saharan countries deal with the root causes of migration. However, the relationships between many African countries and their European counterparts have been shaky as anti-colonial sentiment is growing. The multi-faceted issues that cause irregular migration serve as a reminder that only God has the power to truly heal the world. In John chapter 16 verse 33, Jesus told his disciples that they would face trouble, but to take heart because He has overcome the world. The Church can be encouraged by these words of Jesus when looking at the perilous situations that migrants all over the world are facing, and can pray for believers in these countries, even though few in number, to be mighty in impact.

Please join us in praying for:

  • Protection and provision for those who are stuck in the Sahara Desert without support or resources
  • Global cooperation between nations to find sustainable and effective solutions to the issue of migration
  • The Church to be a major role player in the solutions to issues around migration and for Christians to remain prayerful for those who face perilous situations