Police clear refugee camps, arrest dozens in Tunisia as crackdown continues

Migrants scream in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Tunisia after police stormed a camp on April 11. Migrants have been the target of attacks and arrests since February.FETHI BELLED/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Camps for African refugees and migrants outside UN offices in Tunisia have been forcibly cleared by police with tear gas, arresting dozens of people in the latest crackdown in a campaign that has raised alarm across Africa.

Officials removed tents, blankets, sleeping bags and cooking equipment expatriates According to photos and videos on social media, they had been sheltering outside UN offices for the past six weeks following an eruption of anti-foreigner violence in Tunisia.

A video shows a migrant covered in blood and in a torn shirt after being thrashed by the police. “This country is not safe for us,” an African said in the video. “Help us, Lord. We need evacuation.

Some migrants reportedly responded to tear gas by throwing stones at parked cars and breaking their windows.

Several African governments – including Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea – have already organized evacuation flights for helping hundreds of migrants return to their home countries in recent weeks.

Many migrants, including those who hold legal status as refugees, have become the target of arrests and attacks since February. The campaign began after a speech by Tunisian President Kais Saied alleging that “the hordes” of foreigners were causing criminal violence and threatening the country’s traditional Arab character.

Tunisia was the only stable democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring protest movements, but Mr Saied has pushed the country in a difficult direction. increasingly authoritarian direction Since his election victory in 2019. He has suspended the Tunisian parliament and his security forces have arrested journalists, trade unionists, judges and opposition activists. His government has used military trials against dissidents and proceeded to dissolve the country. elected city councils,

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Being located across the Mediterranean Sea from southern Europe, Tunisia has become a major transit hub, attracting thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe. But xenophobic rhetoric from Mr Syed and other politicians has put migrants at risk. Hundreds have been arrested, physically assaulted, dismissed from their jobs or evicted from their homes.

The African Union, in a statement in late February, condemned Mr Saied’s words and urged him to refrain from “racially abusive language”.

Since then the concern has increased further. Last week, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was concerned by a rise in arbitrary arrests and violence against migrants and refugees in Tunisia following Mr Saied’s speech.

“The Committee is deeply concerned about reports of racial or xenophobic abuse in Tunisia against migrants from African countries … including racist abuse by private figures and political party members, in particular by the Head of State comments,” it said in a statement.

“It is also deeply concerned that this wave of hate speech and stigmatization has given rise to acts of violence against these migrants, including physical assault and eviction from their homes and jobs.”

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The Soufan Center, a US-based independent research and analysis organization, warned that rising unemployment and inflation rates in Tunisia are “providing fertile ground for the dissemination of far-right narratives and the scapegoating of sub-Saharan African migrants.”

It said the anti-immigrant comments by Mr Syed were “incendiary” and an echo of the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which claims global elites are “replacing” whites with non-white immigrants. Are. “Such rhetoric has underpinned far-right violent groups and attacks in both North America and Europe,” the research group said in a report last week.

The Soufan Center said that many people with legal status in the country – including Tunisian citizens and students in Tunisian universities – “have been swept away by rising tensions and xenophobic abuse”.

At the same time, it said, an increase in migration to Europe through Tunisia is adding to tensions. At least 15,340 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived Italy from Tunisia this year, compared to about 4,000 in the same period last year. 14,000 migrants were stopped or rescued at sea by the Tunisian coast guard, almost five times more than in the same period last year. European officials have encouraged Tunisia to implement migration restrictions on the Mediterranean.

Italy’s right-wing government declared a six-month state of emergency on Tuesday to deal with the growing number of migrants arriving. It said the announcement would allow more money for reception centers for migrants and for repatriation flights to send them back to their countries of origin.

In total, more than 31,000 migrants from all sources have arrived in Italy this year, the government says, compared to 7,900 in the same period last year.


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