Migrants in Tunisia: “It seems like they are encouraging them to leave” towards the Italian coasts.

Le 10 août 2023 à Sfax, des migrants subsahariens interceptés en mer par les forces de l’ordre tunisiennes.

As the number of migrant arrivals on the island of Lampedusa increases from Tunisia, Tunisia is intensifying its operations against sub-Saharan nationals still present in Sfax, the country’s second largest city. With supporting photos, the Ministry of Interior announced on Sunday, September 17, that they have evacuated the historic center of the city, where hundreds of migrants had sought refuge after being expelled from their homes in early July. These individuals were then subjected to a manhunt with the support of law enforcement. “This security campaign has been well received by the residents of the region, especially after the restoration of public order and the evacuation of public spaces,” the Ministry of Interior stated in a press release issued at the end of the day.

Earlier in the week, he had already warned organizations that help migrants and, according to an anonymous volunteer on site, prevented volunteers from providing assistance. Hundreds of people were transported by buses from the regional transport company of Sfax on Saturday and Sunday, and were relocated to rural areas a few tens of kilometers away, particularly in the towns of Jebeniana and Al-Amra.

“A purely secure response”

“I cannot reword”

After the days of extreme tension that followed the death of a Tunisian on July 3, killed in a brawl with sub-Saharan migrants according to the official version, hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans were expelled from Sfax and taken to the desert on the borders of Algeria and Libya. Abandoned without water or food in scorching heat, at least 25 of them had died, according to humanitarian sources, while hundreds of others had walked for dozens of kilometers before being rescued, placed in more or less official reception centers, or released.

This time, the migrants have been relocated to coastal areas north of Sfax, known to be preferred departure points towards the Italian coasts, particularly the island of Lampedusa, located less than 150 km away. “There are hundreds of migrants who were already here in Al-Amra since what happened in July, they stay here for days, even weeks, before boarding, it is one of the main departure areas in the region,” testifies Wahid Dahech, an activist present on site. “It seems like they are pushing them to leave, even though they don’t even have the means to pay for their crossing. They are leading them to death,” criticizes Romdhane Ben Amor.

« Propagande »

Since September 11th, the small island of Lampedusa, with a population of 7,000, has experienced a record number of arrivals of makeshift boats from Tunisia. In less than seventy-two hours, it has welcomed up to 6,800 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. Two months after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Tunisia and the European Union (EU) aimed at increasing border control in the southern Mediterranean, Tunisian authorities seem overwhelmed by the growing number of departures to Europe.

In July, the spokesperson for the Tunisian National Guard informed Le Monde that over 30,000 migrants had been intercepted in the first six months of 2023, a number that has increased more than tenfold since 2019. “There is a depletion of the security system that lacks resources and has been working continuously for several months,” says Romdhane Ben Amor, while the EU had committed, in vague terms, to “provide adequate additional financial support, particularly for acquisitions, training, and technical support necessary to further improve the management of Tunisian borders,” as stated in the agreement between the two parties, which is yet to be implemented.

According to several NGOs in Tunisia, these mass departures have been facilitated by favorable weather conditions and a decrease in the price of the crossing, which is now on average 1,500 dinars per person (less than 500 euros), compared to nearly 2,000 euros on average in 2022. This decrease can be attributed to the use of cheaper but more fragile metal boats. These departures are also explained by the deteriorating living conditions of sub-Saharan migrants “who can no longer find housing or work. Some of them had planned their migration project for the long term but had to hasten their departure,” explains the FTDES spokesperson. According to him, the official discourse on combating smugglers’ networks, both from Tunisia and the EU, is “propaganda.”