in Tunisia, sub-Saharan migrants stigmatized and attacked
People from sub-Saharan Africa have been the target of attacks in Tunisia for some time. These migrants, stigmatized and “victims of arbitrary attacks”, are trying to return urgently to their country of origin. Others like Patrick*, contacted by France 24, remain on site but fear for their safety.
“Currently, we are afraid to walk around like before.” Patrick*, a 29-year-old Congolese, arrived in Tunisia six months ago to study international business. But the climate has seriously deteriorated in the country in recent weeks for people coming like him from sub-Saharan Africa.
It was an intervention by the Tunisian president who set fire to the powder, on February 21: Kaïs Saïed then held a very harsh speech on illegal immigration in Tunisia, calling for “urgent measures” against the “hordes of migrants immigrants” from sub-Saharan Africa, and whose presence is, according to him, a source of “violence, crimes and unacceptable acts”.
Kaïs Saïed also maintained that this illegal immigration was part of a “criminal enterprise hatched at the dawn of this century to change the demographic composition of Tunisia”, in order to transform it into an “African only” country and to blur its “Arab-Muslim” character. According to figures quoted by NGOs, more than 20,000 sub-Saharan Africans live in Tunisia, less than 0.2% of the total population.
These remarks were condemned by the African Union, NGOs and even by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – which notably denounced a “xenophobic, outrageous, humiliating discourse against the sub-Saharan community of immigrants”.
Worse: since this speech, attacks have multiplied against people from sub-Saharan Africa. Patrick, he has decided to stay in the shelter since February 21 so as not to be targeted. “We are scared. I have been at home for two weeks. I haven’t been assaulted, but I have friends who have. Since the Tunisian president made his speech, there have been Tunisians attacking black people,” he explains.
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Patrick lives recluse at home with another student, who also prefers not to go out in the street. The two men “make an effort” sometimes to do small shopping: “We just go out near the house to buy bread, juice… in small shops. That’s all.”
“Victims of arbitrary attacks”
Saadia Mosbah is president of M’nemty, an association that fights racial discrimination in Tunisia. She confirms that the atmosphere has changed recently on the spot: “It’s a climate of fear, it’s very tense right now.”
Sub-Saharan Africans are the target of Tunisians, as in Sfax, where four of them were victims of stabbings on the night of February 25, or in Tunis, where four Ivorian students were attacked in leaving their university hostel, as reported by RFI.
“Sub-Saharan people are victims of arbitrary attacks”, continues Saadia Mosbah. “The stigma is through the color of the skin, and as a result even some black Tunisians are attacked as it happened to one of them in Sfax.”
The activist also denounces the political influence of the Tunisian Nationalist Party, created in 2018 and which for months has explicitly targeted sub-Saharan migrants in its speeches, whether on television or by going door-to-door.
>> Anti-migrant remarks: “A new identity discourse at the top of the Tunisian state”
“Militias belonging (to this party) roam the streets of Greater Tunis, Sfax or Medenine, ordering owners to put all sub-Saharan Africans on the streets and traders to no longer sell them milk, rice or semolina. , under penalty of closure and legal proceedings, fines, or even imprisonment”, denounce Saadia Mosbah and the psychiatrist and writer Fatma Bouvet de la Maisonneuve in a column published Friday March 3 by Le Monde.
The president of M’nemty specifies that these Tunisians who attack sub-Saharan people “put people out by keeping their belongings. There are places where there have been homes burnt down, homes looted. People we see currently waiting in front of embassies no longer have a penny, their money has been stolen.”
“We hope it will be fine, but we are still afraid”
Faced with this deleterious climate, some of the sub-Saharan migrants present in Tunisia have approached their respective embassies in recent days in order to be repatriated urgently to their country of origin. Most of them, in an irregular situation, lost their jobs and their homes overnight.
The Embassy of Côte d’Ivoire in Tunisia took charge, on March 1, of about fifty people – entire families, with children and babies – who had been camping for several days near the official building on mattresses or under a tarp.
On the same day, around 50 Guinean nationals arrived in Conakry after fleeing Tunisia, the first repatriation flight since Kaïs Saïed’s speech. “(It’s) a surge of hatred that has no reason,” one of them told AFP after arriving in Guinea.
>> See also: 49 Guineans repatriated to Conakry, Ivorians supported by their embassy in Tunis
This flight from the country worries Patrick: “We are afraid, there are sub-Saharan brothers who are returning home… And now, we who are still here, we fear the fallout, reprisals if we stay here.” The international trade student calls on the international community to “secure the Sub-Saharans who have remained in Tunisia.”
He doesn’t want to leave right now. “I came here with one goal: to study. I paid my plane ticket to come here, I paid my school fees… I could well return to my country for security reasons but it would be me who would be the loser.”
“I feel in danger. I entered legally with my passport to come and do my studies, but as there are some who enter Tunisia illegally, we made a generalization by saying that the blacks were coming to take over their country”, concludes Patrick. “We try to stay optimistic, we hope it will be okay, but we are still scared.”
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