UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Tuesday (1 August) for Tunisia to stop expelling migrants into desert border areas, and demanded those already stranded in the harsh environment be relocated, a spokesperson said.
"We are deeply concerned about the expulsion of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from Tunisia to the borders with Libya and also Algeria," deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
He warned that "several have died" at Tunisia's border with Libya, while "hundreds, including pregnant women and children, reportedly remain stranded in extremely dire conditions with little access to food and water."
In recent days, hundreds of migrants have arrived daily in Libya after being abandoned in the desert borderland by Tunisian security forces, Libyan border guards and the migrants themselves have told AFP.
By the time they reach Libya, the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are ready to drop from exhaustion, in temperatures that have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
According to humanitarian organisations in Libya contacted by AFP, at least 17 people have died in the last three weeks.
Tunisia is a major gateway for migrants and asylum-seekers attempting perilous sea voyages in hopes of a better life in Europe, whose leaders have offered financial aid to help Tunisia manage the flow.
On Thursday, a joint statement from UN agencies referred to the "unfolding tragedy" of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Tunisia's border regions.
"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 Tuesday.
He added 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."
The Libyan government of Tripoli has made it known in recent days that it rejects "resettlement" on its territory of migrants arriving from Tunisia.