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Tunisia deportations highlight rise of racism

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Picture: Tunisian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS/Taken on June 6, 2023 – Tunisia’s President Kais Saied chats with right wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Tunis, Tunisia June 6, 2023. A prominent rights group has accused Tunisian President Kais Saied of ‘racism and hate speech’ after he vows to crack down on sub-Saharan African migrants.

By Peoples Dispatch

Tunisian authorities have forcibly relocated hundreds of migrants of sub-Saharan origin from the city of Sfax to an area near its border with Libya, according to multiple news reports on Wednesday, July 5.

The move came in the aftermath of violent clashes in the city between Tunisian citizens and migrants in recent days. Clashes in the city on Tuesday resulted in the death of one Tunisian man, which drastically inflamed the already widespread racist and anti-Black African sentiment in the country and led to further retaliatory attacks and violence against Black Africans.

A building used by migrants as accommodation was reportedly set on fire besides several other instances of racist behaviour and harassment.

As the security forces were expelling migrants from Sfax, many were brutally assaulted, had their phones confiscated, and even their food thrown away by authorities. A number of houses where the migrants were staying have been raided in the last few days.

One such raid was carried out on Sunday before the killing of the Tunisian man. 48 migrants ended up getting arrested in the raid and 20 of them were forcibly relocated to the border region.

Picture: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Taken on February 22, 2023 – Sub-Saharan African women look for clothes in a thrift store in the market of Ariana, on the northern outskirts of Tunis. Human rights group have expressed concern over the migrants’ safety and health in the border areas where they face multiple risks including physical and sexual violence, the writer says.

Most of them were in Tunisia seeking asylum. Reports noted that the migrants were mainly nationals of Cameroon, Mali, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Chad. Those relocated included six women, of whom two were pregnant, and a 16-year-old minor girl.

Reports said that the migrants were sent across the Libya border, but they later re-entered Tunisia after they were accosted by armed men. In the subsequent days, hundreds of migrants were taken to the border area, many among them children.

Rights groups and several Tunisian politicians have highlighted that in the last few weeks, the authorities have deported somewhere around 500 African migrants to the Tunisia-Libya border.

One Tunisian lawmaker estimated that the actual number of migrants deported by the government could be around 1,200, a large number of them also being sent to the border with Algeria.

Migrants have been subjected to several heinous crimes, including rape, physical violence, death and psychological trauma, claim rights groups. If they survive, they have to live through extremely harsh conditions, having to sleep on the ground in the desert and going extended periods without food, water, and medicines.

The treatment of migrants by the Tunisian authorities has come under heavy criticism from various human rights groups and the UN. The UN’s Twitter account for refugees in Libya expressed concern over the mass expulsion of migrants from Tunisia into Libya without providing them food or water.

The migrants are not even assured a place to stay and are reportedly just ‘dumped’ into the desert to fend for themselves. Romdane Ben Amor, head of the Tunisian rights group Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), referred to Tunisian President Kais Saied’s inflammatory and racist comments against sub-Saharan migrants in February where he accused them of an “invasion” and attempting to change the country’s demographics.

He said that FTDES had then warned that “the tragic and inhuman situation of migrants” would be aggravated by such hate speech, which also explains the steady increase in violence against them.

This article was first published on the Peoples Dispatch