Tunisia expels dozens of sub-Saharan Africans into the desert after an outbreak of racial violence | International

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Sub-Saharan migrants crowd to board a train at the Sfax station in Tunisia on Wednesday.HOUSSEM ZOUARI (AFP)

The contained pressure in Sfax, the epicenter of irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 270 kilometers south of the capital of Tunis, has exploded with echoes of persecution against thousands of sub-Saharans. Dozens of West African migrants have been expelled by the authorities of the port city to a desert area on the border with Libya after the wave of violence in which a Tunisian citizen was stabbed to death on Monday, as reported by local human rights NGOs on Wednesday night. Many of the more than 10,000 sub-Saharans waiting in Sfax to embark on a small boat heading to the Italian coast have regrouped at the railway station to try to escape from a city taken over by security forces, amid the growing climate of harassment of the african blacks.

the NGO Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) and two dozen other organizations that closely monitor migration issues have denounced that a hundred migrants and refugees from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mali, Chad and Guinea-Conakry, including women and minors, were expelled on Wednesday towards Ben Gardane, in a desert area bordering Libya. The displaced, who were earlier gathered by the police at the Sfax fairgrounds, have reported ill-treatment, theft of money and the destruction of their mobile phones. Another 50 sub-Saharan Africans have already been transferred over the weekend to the same area.

Funeral for a Tunisian stabbed by a sub-Saharan man, Tuesday in Sfax.
Funeral for a Tunisian stabbed by a sub-Saharan man, Tuesday in Sfax.HOUSSEM ZOUARI (AFP)

Hundreds of inhabitants of the coastal city have organized to monitor their neighborhoods and demand the immediate departure of irregular migrants, in protest at the death of a 41-year-old Tunisian, stabbed to death in a confrontation with sub-Saharan Africans, according to France Presse. Neighborhood patrols have set up barricades and burned tires to close off access to their districts. Social networks have also been inflamed with images, the veracity of which has not been independently verified, of police raids to expel migrants from their homes to applause from the neighbors. Other recordings show sub-saharans lying on the ground surrounded by people armed with sticks, or report the admission to hospitals of dozens of injured black Africans.

The tension between the inhabitants of Sfax and the sub-Saharan migrants already surfaced last May, when a man from Benin died in a hospital after being stabbed by seven Tunisians. Himma Hamad, immigration officer at the Sfax branch of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, He then assured EL PAÍS that he had collected dozens of complaints of attacks on sub-Saharan migrants after the speech "of a xenophobic tinge" delivered last February by the president of Tunisia, Kais Said, who governs by decree after dissolving Parliament two years ago. Said described the presence of tens of thousands of sub-Saharans (between 20,000 and 40,000, according to sources) among the country's 11 million inhabitants as "hordes that pose a demographic threat to Tunisia's Arab identity."

The president insisted again on Tuesday that Tunisia "will not accept in its territory anyone who does not respect the law" and that the full weight of justice will also fall on those who "host illegal migrants in their homes, rent them or offer work." The Tunisian League for Human Rights points out that in addition to suffering social harassment and labor exploitation, with salaries two thirds lower than those received by Tunisians, the sub-Saharans of Sfax constantly live under the threat of being expelled from their homes.

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President Said also warned that Tunisia refuses to become "a country of transit to Europe or resettlement of citizens of some African countries." Last month, the European Union offered the country a contribution of more than 1,000 million euros in aid to contain the avalanche of small boats from its coasts to Italy. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the head of the Government of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, traveled to the Tunisian capital with the promise of helping the North African country to undertake the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a financial rescue plan that implies a high social and employment cost.

Sub-Saharan migrants rest in Sfax (Tunisia), on Wednesday amid the wave of racial tension.
Sub-Saharan migrants rest in Sfax (Tunisia), on Wednesday amid the wave of racial tension.IMED HADDAD (AFP)

Faced with the massive arrival of migrants in improvised boats from Tunisia to the Italian coasts, in particular to the island of Lampedusa, the EU has put on the table a package of 105 million euros - triple the annual funding of the last two years — for border control programs, registrations and returns of irregular immigrants. The Union General de Trabajadores Tunisians (UGTT), the largest organization in the Maghreb country, has blamed the Tunisian president for having aggravated the immigration situation by agreeing to become "a gendarme of the Mediterranean" and systematically intercepting irregular immigrant boats and leading them to the Sfax harbour.

In the first four months of 2023, nearly 19,000 migrant interceptions were registered on the route to Italy, which already represented 82% of all those recorded in 2022. Given the blockade on the Moroccan, Algerian and Libyan coasts, Tunisia is now the main relief valve for the African migratory pressure across the Mediterranean towards Europe. In the 100 kilometers of coastline between Sfax and Mahdia (to the north), almost 75% of the departures of boats from Tunisia are concentrated. Located less than 200 kilometers from Sfax, half a day by boat with a small outboard motor, the Italian island of Lampedusa is the gateway to Europe for the thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who have reached the Tunisian coast.

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