Report by: Farid Kefel, for the Calabash Newspaper
Sub-Saharan Africans recount Tunisia ‘hell’ amid crackdown as racial tensions are spinning out of control as many sub-Saharan Africans prepare to leave the country
Hundreds of West African migrants flee Tunisia after President Saied’s controversial crackdown. In his February 21 speech, Saied ordered officials to take “urgent measures” to tackle irregular migration, claiming without evidence that “a criminal plot” was underway “to change Tunisia’s demographic makeup”. A Salone lady was interviewed from Tunis this morning by Aljazeera, and she expressed her dismay at the racism stoked on them by the Tunisian President Kais Saied, fueling a riotous clampdown on black Africans in the country,
Ivory Coast airlifts its persecuted citizens from #Tunisia. Approx. 2,000 will be repatriated. Guinea staged an emergency airlift last week. Waves of racist violence & pogroms have swept #Tunisia, stoked by Kais Saied’s Feb 21 “Great Replacement” speeches. A first group of 50 Guineans was flown home on Wednesday, while Ivory Coast and Mali prepared to repatriate a combined 295 of their citizens on special flights on Saturday, diplomats and community organizers said.
Saied charged that migrants were behind most crime in the North African country, fueling a spate of sackings, evictions, and physical attacks against the community. Some 300 West African migrants were set to leave Tunisia on repatriation flights Saturday, fearful of a wave of violence since President Kais Saied delivered a controversial tirade last month. In comments to the National Security Council on Tuesday published online by the presidency, Saied called for “urgent measures” to stop the arrival of “hordes of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa”, who he said bring “violence, crime, and unacceptable practices”.
Immigrants, he said, are part of a “criminal plot” intended to change Tunisia’s demographic makeup.
The African Union expressed “deep shock and concern at the form and substance” of Saied’s remarks, while Governments in sub-Saharan Africa scrambled to organize the repatriation of hundreds of fearful nationals who flocked to their Embassies for help. Rights groups have accused Tunisian President Kais Saied of racism and hate speech after he vowed to crack down on migration from sub-Saharan Africa, which he said was an organized scheme aimed at changing Tunisia’s demographic makeup.
The statements sparked an outcry, with many people accusing the President of racism, and invoking right-wing conspiracy theories. “It is a racist approach just like the campaigns in Europe,” said Ramadan Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES). Tunisia is dealing with a deepening economic crisis, with growing debt and surging inflation, and shortages of essential goods. Saied, who has seized almost total power since shutting down parliament in July 2021, has blamed the shortages on unidentified “speculators”.
Acts of xenophobic violence against sub-Saharan Africans are surging across Tunisia,” Salsabil Chellali, Tunisia director for Human Rights Watch, told Bloomberg. She couldn’t give specifics on the number of victims but said the violence against black Africans was worse than anything the country has seen before. The rare racial violence was triggered by the presidency’s use of “hateful and xenophobic remarks at a time of deep crisis,” Chellali said. Rights groups say hundreds of African migrants are seeking to flee Tunisia after the unprecedented wave of violence, arrests, and evictions. Many came to Tunisia to study or to take on jobs in construction, childcare, and hotels, but some have used it as an illegal transit point for crossing into Europe.
Tunisia, like other North African countries, has come under pressure from European Governments to reduce crossings. But Saied’s critics say the approach has resulted in an authorized witch hunt by vigilantes and gangs targeting the most vulnerable. Saied’s comments come at a time when popular discontent is growing about the economy. Tunisians are struggling with shortages in food staples like cooking oil and coffee as well as medicine. That’s in part due to Government-imposed import curbs to save foreign currency.