Migrants staged counter Outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Tunisia this week. Many were living a harsh life outside a nearby UN migration office following an increase in racist attacks by President Kais Saied. call State resources had to be used last month to stem the flow of migrants from other parts of Africa into the country.
in a video posted by Facebook account On 21 February, Saied said that the migration was a “plot” against Tunisia’s demographic structure that would make it an “African” rather than an “Arab-Muslim” country. He claimed that unnamed parties were receiving money to settle African migrants in Tunisia.
The impact of the president’s words, which speak to the long-standing prejudices lurking beneath the surface of Tunisian society, was immediate. Overnight, black migrants – many of whom have precarious employment or live in irregular housing – have become targets of violence at the hands of the state as well as normal Tunisians stressed by food shortages and a deepening economic crisis.
an estimated 21,000 black African migrants Out of a population of 12 million North Africans live in the country.
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International organizations on which Tunisia relies heavily, such as African UnionThe world Bank And this International Monetary Fundhas expressed concern over the President’s comments and subsequent waves of racially motivated violence.
In response to criticism, the Tunisian government announced measures To improve [the] Conditions for foreigners, including more relaxed visa rules for immigrants from other African countries.
Racist attacks and police arrests
Migrants sleeping outside UN offices have spoken of being forcibly evicted from their homes by mobs, attacked with machetes and knives and abused in the street. Some alleged that she was raped.
“There is an atmosphere of panic among our fellow Africans,” said Smail, a representative of the Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia (AESAT). He declined to give his full name. AESAT spoke out Syed’s comments about the alleged “arbitrary arrest” of students came days before. Many African students and workers are reportedly unable to obtain the necessary paperwork due to Tunisia’s complex bureaucracy.
A female student from Guinea (who requested anonymity) who moved to Tunisia six years ago said she was sexually assaulted upon entering her apartment building in Sitt El Khadra, a working-class neighborhood in Tunis . This incident happened just three days after the president’s anti-black statement.
Two strangers stopped her, she said, and asked “do I want sex. I said I would shout if they didn’t. The young man” came forward naked, [but] I quickly stepped into my flat and closed the door.” The young woman plans to return to Guinea as soon as possible. Meanwhile, she lives in fear that her attackers know her address.
There are echoes of his story in the accounts of other students gathered in Asiat’s Tunis office. Melanie, also from Guinea, said she was verbally abused on public transport and then punched and pushed. “They were calling me a black bitch, saying weird things. It was really unpleasant. I didn’t go out for a week after that.
Mahamadou Maga of Mali described a “painful” attack by an angry mob on his house, which was set on fire: “When I go out these days, I look around, because I am afraid that someone Could stab me in the back.”
Tunisian police are also cracking down on black migrants, arresting more than 300 hundred earlier this year, According For the independent NGO Forum Tunisian pour les Droits Economiques et Socieux (FTDES).
The Tunisian Nationalist Party, a relatively unknown political party, has also sought to take advantage of the country’s latent racial divisions, running a social media campaign. Report and Exile Undocumented Black Migrants.
Since the violence began last month, hundreds of black African migrants – typically workers in the agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors, higher education students and in-transit migrants trying to get to Europe – have tried to return to their countries of origin. option is selected. ,
On 1 March, the Guinean government repatriated 50 of its citizens. Three days later, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire brought back 300 people. Some have paid for their flights out of Tunisia, while hundreds of others are waiting for African repatriation flights.
Anti-immigrant pressure from Europe
The ease with which the president’s statements triggered racist violence and police action should come as no surprise to black people living in Tunisia – or to scholars of its racial history or Mediterranean migration patterns.
Ali, a member of ASAT, commented on the sexual assault on the Guinean student, saying that Tunisian society and police have long held anti-black attitudes.
“Two men assaulted her on her doorstep in broad daylight not knowing they were taking a significant risk because she is black,” he said. “He wouldn’t have dared to do that to a Tunisian or a white foreigner.”
The police are less likely to intervene for a black woman, which means black women are less likely to make a formal complaint when they are assaulted, she said.
Maha Abdelhamid, a Paris-based researcher working on minority issues in the Middle East and North African region, said “apartheid” is a widespread but unrecognized issue in Tunisia.
Black Africans are often called short names, he said, and North Africa’s Arab-Muslim identity has historically been held up as a prouder heritage than its connection to the rest of Africa. “It has fed black people a sense of superiority for a long time,” she said.
President Sayeed’s comments were played against that historical background; Other triggers are more modern, notably the externalization of Europe’s anti-immigration policies. Europe has pushed its border concerns back to North African countries by supporting and encouraging them to conduct patrols against migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe; This forces migrants to change destinations to transit countries such as Tunisia.
Tunisia has long been under pressure from the European Union to stem migrant flows to Tunisia, said Valentina Zagaria, a Tunis-based migration expert who spent two years doing fieldwork in Zarzis, a coastal city that hosts migrants crossing the Mediterranean. A common starting point for ,
The Tunisian Anti-Fascist Front, formed in response to Said’s rhetoric, “points to”Italian pressureIn particular. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, visiting Tunis in January, described the flow of migrants as “a plague for Italy as a plague for Tunisia.”
“President Saied’s recent statements reinforce the message that Tunisia will remain closely aligned with Italy and the European Union when it comes to migration management and border controls,” Zagaria said.