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Tunisia: Sub-Saharan migrants forcibly deported amid renewal of anti-migrant, anti-Black sentiment

7 July 2023

20 sub-Saharan migrants and people seeking asylum have been abandoned at the Tunisian-Libyan border after being forcibly deported by the Tunisian army and national guard on 2 July.

Subjected to numerous human rights violations including arbitrary detention, violence and the deprivation of medical treatment, the group has now been left in an isolated area around the official crossing point, near Ben Guerdane in southern Tunisia. They have been left without any assistance, food, money or resources, in an area where temperatures reach nearly 45 degrees Celsius.

The situation is even graver for the group’s two pregnant women, one of whom is close to her due date and experiencing bleeding.

This situation requires an urgent mobilization from the international community, humanitarian organizations and the Tunisian authorities. Minority Rights Group urges the Tunisian government to ensure the safety and well-being of these migrants.

These people were reportedly arrested on 1 July in a house in the town of Jbeniana, in the region of Sfax. The police, national guards and military raided the house before arresting the 48 people present and taking them to the Jbeniana police station. Their identity documents were examined, and the information was recorded. The police then reportedly divided them into two groups. 28 were removed to Ben Guerdane, where they were moved between national guard bases and military bases. The National Guard detained eight of this group, including one underage boy, and deported the remaining 20.

They have reported suffering violence .and most of their phones were seized and destroyed and their money was stolen. The women and a 16-year-old girl were victims of sexual harassment on the Tunisian side before removal.

‘MRG strongly urges the Tunisian government to conduct a full and transparent investigation into allegations of violence, abuse and sexual harassment of migrants by security forces. The persons responsible for such serious human rights violations must be held accountable. These arbitrary detentions must end. The fate of the other 20 people removed from the house remains unknown. Furthermore, these 48 people are reportedly not the only migrants from Sfax to have been deported: videos circulating online show numerous buses removing migrants from the area and heading to the border with Libya.

These arbitrary and illegal expulsions violate Tunisia’s commitments under international law to protect migrants on its shores. Specifically, the principle of non-refoulement, which provides that a person should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom, has been violated, since migrants in Libya risk detention under deplorable conditions.

Migrants experience abhorrent rights violations every day in Libya, including torture, arbitrary detention, slavery, rape, murder, overcrowding and the deprivation of food, water and sanitation.

The events of 2 July took place amidst the structural, anti-Black racism throughout Tunisian society. Racist, conspiratorial and xenophobic remarks by President Kais Saied in February 2023 ignited a climate of escalated anti-Black and anti-migrant sentiment that resulted in widespread racist attacks, arbitrary detentions, evictions and the sudden loss of employment. This situation has not abated.

Sub-Saharan migrants and Black Tunisians alike are living in a climate of fear. Though Tunisia has criminalized racial discrimination, it has not put a stop to it. The scapegoating of migrants must end. We reiterate that the Tunisian state must treat all people seeking safety in Tunisia, as well as its own citizens, with equality and dignity.

For more information, please contact the MRG Press Office.

Photo credit: Ahmed Zarrouki.