Ibrahim Diallo is happy to be back in Conakry. In Tunisia, after a wave of violence, he no longer felt safe. “When the president delivered his racist and hateful speech against black migrants, the population started to get involved and attack black people, especially women.” He had witnessed such attacks: “Arabs broke into their rooms and raped the girls.” They stole their property without the authorities saying a word, he said.
These specific allegations cannot be confirmed independently. But DW spoke to many of those affected who wanted to leave Tunisia because they had experienced violence and racism.
Guinea was the first country to bring more than 40 returnees back to Conakry on a special plane. They were received at the airport by junta leader Mamady Doumbouya, accompanied by his foreign minister. Doumbouya described the events in Tunisia as unacceptable and not normal. “We are Pan-Africanists and we stand by it.” Africa is not a continent that can be divided.
Long queues at Tunis airport: Many migrants are leaving Tunisia in a hurry because of the wave of violence
A first flight from Tunis also landed in Mali at the weekend with 135 Malians. Among them is Korotoumi Diakité: ”We had enough problems with both the police and the population. Students were attacked for no reason. We’re getting arrested for just being black”.
Racist hate speech fuels violence
The starting point for this outbreak of violence against blacks was a speech by the authoritarian President Kais Saied on February 21. The African Union (AU) described it as “racist hate speech” and condemned it in the strongest possible terms. Human rights organizations have also expressed concern.
Saied spoke of “hordes of illegal immigrants” and accused migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, without any evidence, of being responsible for a rapid increase in crime. They wanted to infiltrate Tunisia and change its population structure, the president said, fueling anti-migrant sentiment.
Reports of attacks on blacks in Tunisia are mounting. Right-wing nationalists have been increasingly rushing the Internet for weeks. In addition, according to the organization “Lawyers Without Borders” (ASF), the security forces have arrested an unusually large number of migrants since the beginning of February.
For Mahamadou Diarisso, his stay in Tunisia was just a stopover, he actually wanted to continue to Italy. The Malian has been based in Tunis since 2021, working towards his goal of reaching Europe. Then he was also affected by the violent attacks on black migrants – he had to leave his apartment. “I slept on the street in Tunis for two weeks before we were repatriated,” Diarisso told DW in Bamako.
It rained in Tunis, it was very cold. The landlord was afraid that young people would come and “burn everything down”, so he chased them away. “The looting youths stole our things there – we arrived here with a simple backpack with only shoes in it,” he said bitterly.
crowd at the embassy
A week ago there was a large crowd in front of the Ivory Coast embassy. They all had a common goal: to leave the country as quickly as possible. According to agency reports, 1,500 people have already registered with the Ivory Coast embassy to return. Sali, too, had sought refuge in the cold on the embassy grounds with her two-year-old child, because she too had been evicted from her apartment. “The Tunisian state would have said that dark-skinned Africans shouldn’t stay with a Tunisian, said the landlord,” Sali told DW.
Social phenomenon amplified
For Saadia Mosbahde, president of L’Association Mnemty – an association in Tunisia that works against racial discrimination – this wave of hatred is not new: racism already existed that went in this direction. “Not all Tunisians are racists, that’s clear. But now the wave has intensified because the president gave the green light after his statements,” she told DW.
Homeless migrants camp outside the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration in Tunis
According to Mosbahde, sub-Saharan Africans are the most vulnerable population group. Certainly there are people who entered the country illegally. There were also major economic problems. The government is hoping for a billion-dollar loan from the IMF to avert national bankruptcy. The country is “in a crisis that Tunisia has never experienced before,” says Mosbahde. Many things are mixed up in the process and it cannot be ruled out that the Tunisian government is trying to hide the failures of economic and political reforms in this way.
The repressive policies are being directed with a heavy hand at Saied’s critics and opposition figures, and now increasingly at the migrants – about a third of the migrants in the country are from sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these come from Ivory Coast, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea and Mali. This is the result of a study from 2021, in which the national statistical institute of Tunisia was involved, among others. According to the information, around 21,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are said to be registered. Human rights organizations assume that the number of unreported cases is higher.
Protest against “hunting of black people”
But there is also solidarity in Tunisia: people in Tunis have repeatedly taken to the streets against the xenophobic course, but also against the economic and political crisis in the country. And in the home countries of the migrants, protests are increasing. For example in Senegal.
Guy Marius Sagna, opposition politician and head of the Front for Anti-Imperialist Resistance (Frapp France Dégage), lodged a protest letter against the “hunting of black people in Tunisia” in the Tunisian embassy in Dakar – but a sit-in in front of the embassy was forbidden. “If there are problems in Tunisia, they have to look elsewhere for the causes and reasons, not in the presence of black Africans,” Sagna told DW.
The politician and 13 other people were temporarily arrested “for participating in an unauthorized demonstration,” according to the AFP news agency. Sagna criticized the official silence in Senegal to DW. By banning the demonstration, Senegal’s President Macky Sall has sided with “anti-black hatred and racists,” Sagna said.
Dissatisfaction with the situation in Tunisia is growing at home and abroad, and there has also been sharp criticism from the United Nations. While walkingOngoing projects, however, the World Bank suspended its negotiations on a new partnership agreement with the North African country.
Cooperation: Maryline Dumas