Amnesty International on March 10 called on Tunisia to put an immediate end to racist and xenophobic attacks targeting Black African migrants. The violence began in early February and was exacerbated by a racially-charged speech by President Kais Saied at a National Security Council meeting on Feb. 21. President Saied said that “hordes of irregular migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa” had come to Tunisia, “with all the violence, crime, and unacceptable practices that entails.” He said this was an “unnatural” situation and part of a criminal plan designed to “change the demographic make-up” and turn Tunisia into “just another African country that doesn’t belong to the Arab and Islamic nations any more.”
Amnesty International interviewed 20 migrants who were victims of racist mob attacks. The interviewees alleged illegal detention, eviction, harassment by law enforcement authorities, and forced deportation.
Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef, stated:
President Saied must retract his comments 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. The community of Black African migrants in Tunisia is now gripped by fear of assault or being arbitrarily arrested and summarily deported.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Migration denied allegations of forced deportation. Officials insisted that foreign nationals are given the necessary protection “without any discrimination.”
Groups including Lawyers Without Borders and Save the Children joined with the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties to condemn the spate of racially-motivated attacks in a joint statement. The groups charged that the Tunisian government has fallen short of its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. Article 3 of the convention specifies that parties may not discriminate against refugees on the basis of “race, religion or country of origin, nor because they are refugees.” The groups called on the Tunisian government to develop a “legal framework” to bring immigration in line with international standards. (AI, Jurist)
President Saied’s statements sparked street protests in Tunis, in defiance of an official ban on demonstrations. Activists also opposed a widening crackdown on dissent since Saied seized near-total powers in July 2021. The Tunisian National Salvation Front has vowed continued weekly protests until detained opposition figures are released. (The Guardian, North Africa Post)
Photo: Chahd Lina Belhadj/Meshkal