Peace has been partially restored in the Tunisian port city of Sfax after a second flare-up of xenophobic violence targeting sub-Saharan migrants. The violence was sparked by the death of a local man following a dispute between locals and migrants.
Three Cameroonian migrants have been arrested after clashes between Tunisians and migrants led to the stabbing of 41-year-old Nizar Amri to death on 3 July.
Tensions had already been rising for a few weeks, with sporadic clashes. The murder caused violent reactions from locals in Sfax who “vowed to avenge his death”.
Paramedic Lazar Neji, who worked in the emergency department at a hospital, described “an inhuman … bloody night that leaves you shivering”.
He said migrants were thrown from rooftops, others were attacked with swords. Women and children are also included in the injured.
“Our lives are in danger,” Mohamed Mansari, a Sierra Leonean migrant trying to escape Sfax, told the F24 news channel. He is traveling to the capital city, along with other expatriates, to seek help from their embassies.
“We have looked for cars, we cannot have cars. Therefore, we have decided to run to take the train to Tunis for our safety,” he said.
It appears that the local people and the authorities are not differentiating between refugees, asylum seekers or undocumented migrants.
Sub-Saharan African migrants have been driven from their homes, their mobile phones destroyed, detained and left in a closed militarized zone in the desert near the Libyan border, according to the report. Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES).
Together with more than 25 NGOs, FTDES condemned the “arbitrary and illegal evictions” which “occur too often”.
“The situation is not good right now because some Arabs attacked us, they raped black girls, stole our money and all kinds of other things. It’s not good,” 20-year-old Abubakar from Sierra Leone told F24.
Media footage showed residents of Sfax cheering as police escorted migrants onto buses leaving the city.
FTDES documented 28 people who have gone missing. It said about 20 people, including women and children, had been taken to the coastal town of Ras Ajdir on the Libyan border.
Policing for the European Union
Sfax, Tunisia’s second largest city and its economic capital, is a transit city for illegal boat-transits to Italy.
Tunisia is under pressure from the European Union (EU) to stop migrants from entering its territory. In June, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Tunis and offered President Kais Sayeed, a package of 900 million euros and immediate assistance of 150 million euros. Apart from trade and investment, the money is to be used for border management and combating human trafficking.
“The agreement with the EU will only legitimize President Kais Saied’s authoritarian grip,” said Ahlam ChemlaliVisiting Scholar at Yale University.
Sayeed was accused of inciting racist sentiment in the country after a speech he delivered in February.
He ordered the expulsion of all undocumented immigrants because they “bring violence.” He said the immigration is a “criminal conspiracy” to “change the demographic structure” of Tunisia.
His comments were criticized locally and internationally, including by the African Union (AU), as “hate speech and threats against migrants”.
Au expressed It issued “deep shock and concern at the nature and substance of the statement”.
Said said he did not want Tunisia to become a resettlement country for third-country nationals who had been rejected by Europe.
Chemlali said the president’s speech fueled an atmosphere of hostility with anti-black, anti-immigrant sentiment.
sfax resident featured in june The banners read, “We are not racist but our safety is our priority”. They claim that the number of migrants has increased from a few hundreds to a few thousands.
For Chemlali, the recent violence in Sfax is a culmination of Tunisia’s underlying anti-black racism, a crumbling economy, post-pandemic food shortages, inflation and authoritarian primacy.
“They are all coming together to create a pressure cooker situation that we are now seeing with the increase in xenophobic attacks,” he added.