Tunisia faces urgent plea for aid, shelter as migrant crisis deepens


Tunisian rights groups have issued a fervent appeal for immediate assistance and shelter for migrants left stranded after being expelled from Sfax last week. In a display of solidarity, dozens of protesters rallied in Tunis, calling attention to the plight of these individuals.

The incident was triggered by racial tensions following the killing of a Tunisian man on July 3 during a confrontation between locals and migrants. Sfax, the country’s second-largest city, serves as a departure point for many migrants from impoverished and violence-ridden nations who seek a better life in Europe by embarking on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in makeshift boats.

Following the unrest in Sfax, hundreds of migrants were either forced or fled the city and were subsequently transported to inhospitable desert regions near the borders of Libya and Algeria. Romdane Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), revealed that approximately 100 to 150 migrants, including women and children, remain stranded at the Libyan border. He also noted that roughly 165 migrants abandoned near the Algerian border had been rescued, though specifics about their rescuers and destination were not provided.

Ben Amor expressed concern about the migrants’ safety and called for emergency accommodation to be provided. He further emphasized the need for the authorities to send a resolute message to Tunisian citizens, urging them to assist these individuals irrespective of their immigration status.

In a show of solidarity, around 100 protesters in Tunis responded to the call of an anti-fascist coalition, condemning the treatment of undocumented migrants. The demonstrators also criticized Tunisia’s police for their actions, chanting slogans such as “Tunisia is African. No to racism, down with fascism.”

Amidst the escalating crisis, the head of a Cameroonian association reported “arbitrary arrests” of sub-Saharan Africans near the train station in Zarzis, south of Sfax. Eric Tchata, who shared a video online depicting a group of individuals, including women and children, packed into a warehouse in Medenine, also south of Sfax, alleged that approximately 300 people were arrested solely based on their skin color.

Ben Amor voiced grave concerns about the migrants’ immediate need for aid and shelter, warning that lives could be lost. Human Rights Watch highlighted the dire conditions faced by the migrants in the border regions, where they were left without water or shelter amidst temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Tragically, two bodies have already been discovered.

The rise in racially motivated attacks in Tunisia can be attributed, in part, to President Kais Saied’s remarks in February, where he accused migrants from sub-Saharan African countries of instigating violence and promoting a “criminal plot” to alter the country’s demographic makeup. Naila Zoghlami, head of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, asserted that the president’s comments had granted carte blanche for mistreatment of migrants. She also highlighted the vulnerability of women from sub-Saharan African countries, noting reports of sexual assault.

President Saied, responding to the situation on Friday, stated that Tunisia’s offering to migrants was superior to what they could find elsewhere. However, he reiterated his refusal to allow the country to serve as a transit or settlement destination, while also emphasizing his belief that Tunisia was a victim of criminal human trafficking networks.

Ben Amor dismissed President Saied’s remarks, stating that “expelling children and women is not a lesson in humanity,” contrary to what the president had claimed.

In a joint statement issued on Friday, 28 non-governmental organizations, both local and international, along with trade unions and political parties, criticized President Saied for his role in encouraging criminal acts and providing a tacit endorsement for serious violence against migrants.

On Sunday, a high-ranking European delegation is scheduled to visit Tunis to sign an agreement outlining financial aid to address the issue of illegal migration in the North African country.

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