TUNISIA: Mounting Criticism over President’s Remarks on Immigrants

By Arnold Neliba

TUNIS, MARCH 7, 2023 (CISA)-The European Union, U.S State Department and African Union have raised concerns over a statement by President Kais Saied of Tunisia directing security forces to expel all illegal immigrants from the country.

The February 21 statement by the president terming migration a conspiracy to change Tunisia’s demographics by making it more African and less Arab, led to detention of migrants, evictions by landlords, affected employees fired and attacks of migrants.

“We’re following very closely the developments and the concerns we have around Tunisia. We expect all of our partners to treat migrants with dignity. We don’t want to hear racist hate speech,” European Commission spokesperson Nabila Massrali said on Monday while calling for more inclusive policies.

Amidst arrests and violence against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and attempts by government to evacuate their citizens from Tunisia, the U.S State Department raised concerns at the president’s remarks.

“We urge Tunisian authorities to meet their obligations under international law to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants,” spokesman Ned Price said.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission H.E. Moussa Faki MAHAMAT strongly condemned the “shocking statement” issued by President of Tunisia targeting fellow Africans which he said “go against the letter and spirit of our Organization and founding principles.”

“The Chairperson reminds all countries, particularly African Union Member States, to honor their obligations under international law and relevant African Union instruments to treat all migrants with dignity, wherever they come from, refrain from racialised hate speech that could bring people to harm, and prioritize their safety and human rights,” the statement adds reiterating the commitment of the Commission to support the authorities in Tunisia in addressing migration challenges in order to make migration safe, dignified and regular.

The African Union has since cancelled a conference it planned to hold in Tunisia in protest of the remarks despite the Tunisian government announcing a string of new measures for sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights estimates that 21,000 sub-Saharan immigrants are living in Tunisia, many without residency status, and believed to be heading to Europe.