The Tunisian president’s crackdown on immigration is forcing hundreds of people to repatriate from sub-Saharan Africa

The Tunisian president’s crackdown on immigration is forcing hundreds of people to repatriate from sub-Saharan Africa

After dissolving parliament to rule by decree from 2021 and sparking a recent wave of arrests of critics and dissidents, Tunisian President Kais Said has cracked down on sub-Saharan illegal immigrants. “Since the beginning of the century, there has been a criminal plan to change the demographic composition of Tunisia and transform it into a simple African country with no ties to the Arab and Islamic world,” Said told the National Security Council a week ago. The harassment suffered by countless black Africans since then has forced several West African states to organize the repatriation of hundreds of their citizens to the North African country.

The president’s rebukes of undocumented migrants, whom he blames for spreading “unacceptable crimes and acts”, sparked rejection by the African Union and civil protests in Tunisia against Said’s racist and authoritarian leanings. Among Tunisia’s 12 million, one in 10 of whom is black, nearly 21,000 undocumented sub-Saharan Africans (0.2 percent of the population) are trapped in a transit country during their exodus to Europe.

The Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights, an organization that works with migrants, reported an escalation of incidents against people from sub-Saharan Africa following Said’s comments. Many irregular migrants have lost their jobs or homes because employers and landlords fear being penalized for hiring undocumented foreigners. Several West African embassies offer voluntary repatriation plans for people seeking diplomatic protection.

Half a hundred Guineans returned from Tunis to Conakry on Wednesday on a flight organized by the military junta that has been in power since September last year, according to Guinean foreign ministry sources quoted by France Presse. Ivory Coast has also launched a repatriation campaign for 500 of its citizens. Dozens of people, including a number of children, are waiting for evacuation at the embassy in the Tunisian capital. Exit is hampered by the need to pay high fines in advance for exceeding the permitted length of stay in the country. “The most important thing is to save lives and prevent injuries. Our company [aérea] National Air Côte d’Ivoire has been mobilized,” said a government spokesman.

“They should avoid driving in conflict zones, going out late at night and using public transport. You should always have your residence permit, consular card and student card with you,” is the advice on the website of the Association of Senegalese Students of Tunis. “If you are arrested, contact the embassy quickly,” they warn. Attacks against sub-Saharan Africans surged last week, along with police raids over racial discrimination and dozens of arbitrary arrests in Tunisia.

Demonstration against discrimination against sub-Saharan immigrants on February 25 in Tunis MOHAMED MESSARA (EFE)

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“Said’s statements about the existence of a conspiracy to change demographic balance reflect how conspiracy ideas are reinforced when the perception of vulnerability increases,” argues Miguel Hernando de Larramendi, professor of Arab and Islamic studies at the University of Castile-La Stick . “The recent spate of arrests reflects the growing vulnerability of a populist president who is losing support and who is increasingly disengaged from a people,” he underlined in a news report, “more concerned about the deterioration of the socio-economic situation and about the deliveries that daily rates caused by the project to dismantle the political and institutional system that after the fall of [el dictador Zin el Abidín] Ben Ali in 2011.”

This North African expert believes that “racist statements that portray the sub-Saharan population as an internal enemy are aimed at exploiting deep-seated feelings in a part of Tunisian society”. Despite her claim that a law was passed in 2018 criminalizing racial discrimination and allowing victims to seek redress for verbal abuse or physical acts of racism, the specter of xenophobia has resurfaced in Tunisia.

Days later, after the initial controversy, the president denied taking a racist stance and merely urged the security forces to abide by the law. However, Said insisted that Tunisia had been suffering from a conspiracy to change the demographic balance since the turn of the century and that “some parties” (without naming any) had received large sums of money to force sub-Saharan Africans into the country to leave. . Allowed.

Drift to the “big replacement”

The words of the Tunisian president suggest a shift towards what has been called the “Great Replacement” or “Great Replacement” theory of crushing a local civilization, in this case Arabs and Muslims, under the weight of a wave of immigration that threatens Said in Tunisia identified as sub-Saharan and sometimes Christian or animist. Ultra’s candidate Éric Zemmour has already started this explosive political debate in France during the last presidential election campaign.

As Professor Hernando de Larramendi recalls, the gradual loss of support for the president has increased over the past year, reflected in the low participation in the referendum on the new constitution, approved in July 2022 with almost 30% of the participation, or in the mass abstention (about 90% of the census) in the last general election. “The wave of repression and the hardening of the regime are part of the flight of a president who seeks scapegoats at home and abroad to compensate for his loss of support,” he says.

Most citizens of African countries do not have a visa to enter Tunisia, although it is very difficult for them to obtain a residence permit other than that allowed as tourists. From the north coast, many try to reach Europe via Italy, where 32,000 irregular migrants arrived by boat last year. Of these, 18,000 had Tunisian nationality. But President Said’s vicious speech targets the people of sub-Saharan Africa. Authorities strictly enforce the law, which requires police to report apartment rentals to foreigners and imposes heavy fines for work without a work permit.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the country’s capital last weekend to protest the harassment of sub-Saharan Africans, chanting “Tunisia is Africa”. Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur, winner of last year’s Madrid Open, uploaded a message to the twitter network expresses her “pride as an African woman” and defends everyone’s right to “live with dignity”. In his “Against Discrimination” tweet, he reproduces an image from a 1961 Tunisian postage stamp, showing a white and black hand merging to form the African continent in commemoration of Africa Day. African Union Commission Chairman Musa Faki Mahamat of Chad condemned “the statement made by the Tunisian authorities against their African compatriots” and demanded that they “not utter racial hate speech”.

Tunisia’s Foreign Minister on 27 in Tunis FETHI BELAID (AFP)

Following the controversy surrounding President Said, Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar, who has been in office since February 7, sought to calm the situation and met with ambassadors from sub-Saharan countries. However, according to France Presse, Ammar refused to apologize for the statements made by the head of state. The Tunisian coastguard, in cooperation with those in Libya, Malta and Italy, is systematically trying to block access to boats for illegal immigrants. As part of this agreement, the government of Rome offered financial support to Tunisia to strengthen maritime surveillance. “We are caught between the north and the south,” admits the head of Tunisian diplomacy, “but when we warn that there is a problem, they wrongly label us as racists.”

Source: La Neta Neta

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