United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called Tuesday on Tunisia to stop expelling immigrants into desert border areas with Libya, demanding those already stranded in the harsh environment be relocated.

The deputy spokesman of the UN Secretary General, Farhan Haq, said they were deeply concerned about the expulsion of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from Tunisia to the borders with Libya and also Algeria, adding that several died at Tunisia’s border with Libya, while hundreds, including pregnant women and children, reportedly remained stranded in extremely dire conditions with little access to food and water.

"We reiterate the call made by the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration last week for an immediate end to these expulsions and the urgent relocation of those stranded along the border to safe locations." Haq said, adding that all migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers must be protected and treated with dignity, in full respect for their human rights regardless of their status and in accordance with international human rights and refugee law.

According to humanitarian organizations in Libya contacted by AFP, at least 17 people have died in the last three weeks since Tunisia started expelling them to desert areas. 

On Thursday, a joint statement from UN agencies referred to the “unfolding tragedy” of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Tunisia’s border regions.