Tunisia has traditionally been a nation used as a transit point for emigrants. But the recent escalation of conflicts and growing insecurity in Libya have triggered the number of sub-Saharan migrants arriving in the country.
The arrivals of migrants by sea continue to skyrocket in Italy: they are almost 49,000 from January to May 2023. Most of those who travel the so-called central Mediterranean route are sub-Saharan Africans who start their journey in Tunisia. Our reporter Monica Pinna has traveled to the African country, in search of information, to discover the stories of those fleeing their countries of origin.
Tunisia has traditionally been a nation used as a transit point for emigrants. But the recent escalation of conflicts and growing insecurity in Libya have triggered the number of sub-Saharan migrants arriving in the country. The Tunisian government responded with a crackdown on illegal immigrants. In February, President Kaïs Saïed gave a speech stating that “sub-Saharan migrants threatened the identity of the country”. His words triggered a xenophobic wave against ‘foreigners’, which made life almost impossible for most of the migrants.
“I lost my job. I lost my house. All Tunisian citizens began to send us away,” the reporter, a South Sudanese migrant who has lived in Tunisia since 2016, told the reporter.
“Here, we are slowly dying. We need a safe place. We don’t care if that place is in Africa, or anywhere else. We want to leave,” said another South Sudanese refugee.
Both are part of a group of around 150 refugees who have been camped for months in front of the headquarters of the UN Agency for Migration, IOM, in Tunis. They ask to be evacuated, urgently, to a third country. There are an estimated 21,000 sub-Saharans in Tunisia, including migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Some have already returned to their countries through voluntary repatriation. But… experts say that what is happening in Tunisia increases the number of tragedies that continue to occur in the Mediterranean Sea, and that shock the whole of Europe.
“After the president’s speech, many people decided to speed up their departure from the country. They have fled without caring too much about the possible consequences,” explains Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Justice.
Since the end of last year, Tunisia has become the first country of departure for emigrants traveling to Europe. The European Union and Italy have reacted by providing Tunisia with more financial and technical assistance for border control. Human rights groups say Tunisia is not a ‘safe’ country for migrants. Thus, they accuse Brussels and Rome of trying to contain, at all costs, the illegal migration that tries to reach Europe.