- Black migrants in Tunisia scramble to escape violent and racist attacks.
- President Kais Saied’s campaign has left undocumented persons vulnerable.
- Amnesty International has called for the retraction of President Saied’s racist remark
Prompted by Tunisia’s president Kais Saied’s recent unsavoury speech, the Sfax beaches have witnessed an influx of migrants making their way to Italy this past week. Today’s tragic sinking of at least two boats marks yet another incident in a string of deaths along the coast. Five boats capsized over the past four days. The numbers indicate that 67 persons are missing, and nine are confirmed to be dead. A further 29 were added to the tally on Sunday.
It has been a busy week for the Tunisian coast guard, which reportedly detained over 3,000 people from 80 boats headed for Italy. On the other hand, Italian officials in Lampedusa claim that 2,500 migrants arrived in the past 24 hours. Tunisia is a hotspot for migrants moving to Italy. Statistics show that at least 12,000 migrants who landed on Italy’s shores this year left from Tunisia.
President Kais Saied’s February 21 racist address left immigrants in a state of panic as he initiated a campaign against undocumented persons in the country. Following the speech, many immigrants have experienced various assaults, from raids to evictions. In addition, president Saied’s rhetoric has increased the level of mistrust among citizens, with many being encouraged to report their undocumented neighbours.
President Saied’s claim that migrants and ethnic minorities are part of a scheme to alter Tunisia’s “demographic makeup” has garnered much criticism. Heba Morayef, Amnesty International‘s Director for the Middle East and North Africa, slammed the president’s comment, called for him to retract it, and “order investigations to clearly signal that anti-Black racist violence will not be tolerated.
“The president must stop finding scapegoats for Tunisia’s economic and political woes,” he added. “The community of Black African migrants in Tunisia is now gripped by fear of assault or being arbitrarily arrested and summarily deported.”
After the 2011 ouster of President Zin El Abedin Ben Ali, the country has yet to recover from years of political unrest. Furthermore, terrorist attacks, COVID-19, and the Ukraine War have prevented any improvements thus far. The president’s recent attacks on the minority seem to be a tactic to deflect just how bad the situation is for Tunisia politically. After many setbacks, including a failed parliamentary election last year, diverting attention to Black migrants seems to be working in his favour, unfortunately.
The predominantly Arab-Muslim country has become a hostile environment for the Black minority. According to Amnesty International, around 840 Black African migrants, students, and asylum seekers have convened in several cities in Tunisia. Witnesses have confirmed that the violent attacks escalated tremendously post Mr. Saied’s polarising and xenophobic sentiments.
The recent increase in activity on Tunisia’s coast and the deaths of multiple refugees is a direct reflection and aftermath of the resurgence of racism in Tunisia. This a far cry and deviation from the Tunisia, which was the first country in the MENA region to introduce a law that criminalises racism and allows victims of racism to seek redress for acts of verbal abuse and physical racism. Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has warned that more refugees will arrive, meaning the hostility and violence in Tunisia are expected to intensify and force more migrants to flee.