Migration activists in Tunisia are raising concerns this week over widespread expulsions and arbitrary arrests. The North African nation is experiencing an influx of migrants attempting Mediterranean crossings to Europe, prompting accusations of a government crackdown. The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights alleges that authorities prioritise European interests over humanitarian concerns, seeking financial and logistical support.
The NGO claims that the situation is particularly dire near Tunisia’s borders with Libya and Algeria, as well as in Sfax, the country’s second most populous city and a common stopover for migrants heading to Europe. In a statement, the organisation asserts that migrants in Sfax, located 117 miles from the Italian Island of Lampedusa, face arbitrary arrests, violence, and property destruction. These actions extend beyond unauthorized migrants, affecting refugees, students, and workers.
Reports suggest mass expulsions along the Algerian and Libyan borders, with migrants in Algeria deported into the desert, irrespective of weather conditions. In Libya, deportations often lead to migrants ending up in detention centers run by armed groups. While Tunisian officials acknowledge pushing back small migrant groups across desert borders, they dispute claims of systematic abuse and expulsions.
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights urges the government to cease deportations, provide a haven for migrants, and update laws to grant legal status to those without papers. The organisation emphasizes the need for national policies ensuring dignity, rights, and freedoms for all, rather than resorting to intimidating vulnerable groups.
Tunisia faces heightened scrutiny regarding its approach to migrants, with over 97,000 people crossing the Mediterranean to Italy in 2023, according to UNHCR. Tunisian migration groups estimate 20,000 to 50,000 sub-Saharan migrants in the country. Despite financial aid from Europe, President Kais Saied refuses to be Europe’s “border guard” and rejects migrants unwanted by European politicians, facing allegations of racism in the process.