Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Collective Expulsion Keeps Black Migrant Workers Stranded In Tunisia, By Odimegwu Onwumere

A woman reacts as Sub-Saharan African migrants who were expelled from the city of Sfax in Tunisia gather in an area near the Libyan-Tunisia border, in Ras Jedir, 173 km west of Tripoli, Libya, 26 July 2023. Libyan border guards found some 150 people, women, children and families stranded in scorching summer temperatures and without water. According to the Red Crescent, Tunisian security forces have moved hundreds of migrants into the arid zone since June 2023. EPA/STR

He is a migrant worker from Sierra Leone who arrived in Tunisia as a political refugee. He was one of the numerous individuals stranded in makeshift tents, their bags hastily packed, lining the pavement in the capital city, Tunis. He expresses fear that their lives are in danger and adds that the situation worsens daily.

This represents the ordeal faced by migrant workers following President Kais Saied’s assertion that immigration aimed to alter the demographic composition of his country and hinder its status as an Arab and Muslim nation. Consequently, he ordered the expulsion of African migrants from Tunisia.

It is clear that Tunisia’s laws prioritize job opportunities for its citizens, which poses challenges for African migrant workers seeking legal employment or immigration status. Recently, the situation in Sfax has worsened, with local Tunisian residents calling for the removal of African immigrants, leading to violent attacks and conflicts.

The decision has been causing worry among many people and created a lot of fear among sub-Saharan Africans and Black Tunisians. The irony and fear lie in the fact that the EU with their once sense of civility are giving aid in the additional tone of 100 million euros to improve Tunisia’s border management in order to achieve the goal of expulsion. However, there are concerns that this agreement will only worsen the mistreatment of migrants in Tunisia, despite the offer of economic aid from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Amnesty International states that the EU’s involvement in mistreating asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants is evident in the EU/Tunisia agreement on migration. According to the International Human Rights Organization, this agreement is being made at a time when there is increasing violence and abuse against sub-Saharan African migrants by Tunisian authorities. The human rights group also argues that the EU-Tunisia migration proposal ignores human rights concerns. Therefore, the European Union shares responsibility for the resulting suffering.

According to our research, it has been discovered that children in Tunisia are subjected to the most extreme forms of child labor, such as being compelled to work as domestic servants and beggars. Furthermore, these children often engage in perilous activities while working on the streets. This further confirms the existence of multiple videos showing authorities capturing asylum seekers and migrants at their homes and taking them away in police vehicles.

The speech, widely denounced as “hate speech” globally, led to the expulsion of a considerable number of people to the borders of Tunisia with Libya and Algeria. Consequently, they were left stranded in uninhabited regions without access to essential necessities such as food, water, and shelter. Despite the fact that Tunisia has experienced a notable increase in the population of sub-Saharan African migrant workers since 2011, these individuals frequently encounter mistreatment and are vulnerable to being coerced into modern slavery.

These individuals, regardless of their legal status, are expelled without being given proper legal procedures, and many have reported experiencing violence from authorities during their arrest or deportation. Two specific instances of violence include the death of a man from Benin in May and the death of a man from Tunisia on July 3.

However, Tunisia’s Interior Minister Kamel Feki stated that between January 1 and July 20 of this year, the bodies of at least 901 refugees and migrants who drowned were discovered off the coast of Tunisia. Feki’s disclosure of these numbers emphasizes an unprecedented level of fatalities along the country’s shores.

The Tunisian coastguard announced that it had recovered the bodies of 13 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and rescued 25 people after their boat sank while they were en route to Italy. This tragic event occurred near the city of Sfax, though the coastguard did not disclose the distance from the shore where the boat sank. As per a statement from the Interior Ministry, Libyan border guards found five unidentified bodies of illegal African migrants during a patrol in the Dahr al-Khass area in Tawilat al-Ratba, situated along the Tunisia border.

According to experts, the mistreatment and abandonment of migrant workers in Tunisia not only goes against ethical standards but also violates international regulations. In February, the African Union (AU) criticized Tunisia for deporting undocumented immigrants and advised against promoting racially motivated hate speech. Forlornly, videos circulating on social media in early July depicted Tunisian men brandishing weapons and forcibly loading black Africans into vans, while bystanders cheered.

Starting from July 2, 2023, Human Rights Watch has documented the expulsion of numerous black African migrants and asylum seekers, including minors and pregnant women, to a secluded and militarized area located at the Tunisia-Libya border. Mohamed Wajdi Aydi, a former deputy mayor, expressed his concerns on July 3rd regarding the increasingly unmanageable situation in the city.

Aydi informed The New Humanitarian that he fears there will inevitably be severe confrontations. The experts appointed by the United Nations urged the autocratic regime in Tunisia to cease collective deportations of sub-Saharan Africans. This regime is believed to have impeded Tunisia’s democratic progress, resulting in political turmoil and sluggish economic development.

The UN’s plea comes shortly after Tunisia reached an agreement to decrease migration to Europe. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed worry about the discriminatory treatment of Black migrants and called on Tunisian authorities to ensure the protection of their human rights.

Onwumere writes from Rivers state. He can be reached via: [email protected]

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