Tunisia… Destination and source of migrants

Image: UN

Life in Tunisia has become so tight, that its people and refugees share the dream of emigrating in search of better life opportunities. As they share a cumulative economic crisis that reached its climax a year ago.

From a nightmare to another…

Hassan, 34-year-old tells MENA Research and Study Centre how he escaped the hell of life in the city of Dinsor, which is under the control of Somali youth movement: “In 2017, I moved from Somalia to Libya through a smugglers’ network in the desert, days after my arrival in Tripoli, an armed group kidnapped me and subjected me to the most heinous forms of torture until my family sent a sum of money requested by the kidnappers. Later I tried to emigrate across the Mediterranean through a Libyan smuggling network, but I did not succeed, so I decided to come to Tunisia in the hope that I will be lucky, but fate arranged it and now I am stuck here.”

Hassan’s story summarizes thousands of African migrants stories who flocked to Tunisia during the past years, either of their own volition or after being rescued by the Tunisian Coast Guard after escaping from Libya, in addition to other types of asylum seekers who left from other countries as a part of illegal migration operations and ended up on the Tunisian coast, due to the breakdown of their boats or the circumvention of illegal immigration brokers.

“I worked in different fields, in construction works and car wash, as well as in the agriculture. During the past two years, I saved 6000 dinars from my work, but I still miss another thousand dinars. I want to move before winter when the weather will be bad, and before the smuggler raises the price of the trip again!” Hassan said

Tunisia’s name has been repeated in recent years after European efforts to establish centers and camps to receive migrants in an unprecedented step, reinforced by visits by officials from the old continent and actors in the European Union to Tunisia, with the aim of combating illegal immigration.

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry says that it arrested 20,616 irregular migrants during 2021, including 10,371 foreigners, most of them from the desert of southern Africa, especially from Ivory Coast, Mali, Somalia, Chad and Ethiopia.

During the first 8 months of 2022, government reports indicate that 1,509 attempts at irregular migration to Italy have been thwarted.

Racism and bad conditions

UNHCR Tunisia has established a system for the integration of regular refugees and the provision of basic services to them, including the work’s distribution areas to many local partners, where the Tunisian Council for Refugees is responsible for examining asylum files and providing housing, aid and basic services for refugees and asylum seekers. The Arab Institute for Human Rights is interested in providing legal aid to this category, and the Tunisian Association for Action and Social Balance is responsible for providing employment and rehabilitation opportunities. African migrants and refugees suffer from systematic campaigns against them, represented by violations and racial discrimination they face every day.

Moussa from Ivory Coast indicates in an interview with the MENA Research and Study Center that, like other immigrants, he is exposed daily to verbal attacks in the street and harassment by the residents and even the authorities.

“I’ve been here since 2019, at that time UNHCR was providing us with financial aid of $70 per month, and it also secured places for me and others to live in central Tunisia. But last January they stopped the financial aid, which prompted us to sit-in more than once.

At first, I decided to settle in Tunisia, but as a result of the discrimination, violence and exclusion I was subjected to, I preferred to migrate to Europe” he said.

Nasser, 21-year-old Tunisian youth, blames some migrants for the racism escalation towards them, linking them to illegal acts and quarrels with citizens. He mentions two recent incidents in his hometown of Sfax. The first one was a mass brawl that led to the death of a young Guinean man, and the second incident was a kidnapping of an African girl. The young man also claims that some migrants “practice pickpocketing and theft to secure the price of leaving Tunisia for Europe.”

Mass migration

The issue of migration from Tunisia has gone beyond foreign migrants to include citizens of different age groups and professional disciplines in the African country, which has been facing successive political crises since the start of the country’s democratic transition in 1999. In addition to the deteriorating social and economic conditions, the widening repercussions of the Ukraine war and the Corona pandemic, and the stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on major structural reforms of the economy.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (non-governmental), according to data seen by the MENA Research and Study Center, revealed that more than 20,000 Tunisians left illegally for Italy and Malta between July 26, 2021, and July 24. In the same period, 3,670 people left overland through Eastern Europe from Turkey, Serbia, Romania, Albania, and the Balkans to enter the Schengen area.

According to the same source, Tunisian nationality ranked first in arrivals to Italy with 18%, and the number of Tunisian minors arriving in Italy was estimated at 1242, and the number of families arriving at 300 since the beginning of 2022.

In his interview with the MENA Research and Study Center, the Tunisian youth, Nasser, considered that there is frustration prevailing among young people in general as a result of the economic conditions, adding: “I am waiting impatiently for my graduation from the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering in order to leave Tunisia for France, where a number of my relatives reside. European countries should embrace immigrants as we embraced Europeans in earlier ages!”

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