On February 21st, Tunisian President Kays Said delivered a speech addressing the issue of illegal immigrants entering his country from sub-Saharan African nations. Since then, his speech has triggered rapid and intense developments. During his address, President Said called for an end to the influx of illegal immigrants, referring to it as a "criminal regulation aimed at changing the demographic structure of Tunisia". Subsequently, the military took action to apprehend illegal immigrants, and the people's reactions were divided. One group, the racist, took it as an opportunity to attack foreigners. Meanwhile, the second group opposed this regulation and held protests in Tunisia's streets.
According to the report submitted by the Tunisian Ministry of Interior, 21,471 sub-Saharan African immigrants live illegally in Tunisia. Most of these immigrants originate from Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Guinea. They undertake a perilous journey, often by flimsy boats, from Tunisia to Europe, fleeing deteriorating economic conditions in Africa. However, the number of African immigrants seeking to cross from Tunisia to Europe is lower than that of those seeking to enter Europe from Libya and Morocco.
Several days after these events, dozens of illegal immigrants from Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Guinea gathered in front of their embassies in Tunisia, seeking repatriation to their respective countries. They were subsequently flown back home.
Unfortunately, this is not the first incident to provoke global reactions and controversy. In 2017, disturbing images surfaced, supporting allegations of African immigrants being sold in slave markets in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. The pictures showed 12 immigrants being sold for approximately 400 euros per person in just a few minutes. Furthermore, on June 24, 2022, 37 immigrants lost their lives at the Moroccan-Spanish border in Melilla due to violent and degrading treatment by officials as they attempted to cross from Morocco to Spain.
The Event and Tunusian Politics
The recent events in Tunisia have brought attention to the country's immigration policies, which differ from those of its neighboring nations. These policies have led to harm and discrimination against some black Africans, including African students who are legally residing in Tunisia. While some analysts and citizens believe that there may be internal or external motives aimed at damaging Tunisia's reputation, others believe that President Kays Said has caused chaos to divert attention from his political failures, consequently tarnishing the country's image.
Such regulations initiated by Kays Said against illegal immigrants are not the first example in the world. There are similar practices in force in America, European countries, and some Muslim countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey. However, the violent transformation of these regulations against illegal immigrants in Tunisia has gained an extraordinary character and has been met with worldwide backlash by Africans, including the African Union.
When the question of who is to be blamed arises, it is more accurate to say that the authorities in Sub-Saharan African countries bear the initial responsibility for the current situation. Their failures and mismanagement have left many youths with no hope, leading them to search for opportunities elsewhere. The governments' corruption and inability to provide job opportunities for their citizens have pushed many to emigrate. However, the governments cannot be solely held responsible, as African youths must also be held accountable for their choices. Sadly, many young people, including those in Tunisia, have dropped out of school to migrate, lacking the necessary skills to secure meaningful employment in capitalist societies.
Nonetheless, Tunisian President Kays Said cannot be absolved of responsibility for the recent events. A leader must be conscious of how to handle issues, and his insensitive statements accusing immigrants of "changing the demographic structure of Tunisia" have caused public unrest.
To prevent further violence, diplomatic solutions must be pursued to address the migrant problem through diplomacy and agreement with other countries. However, the events have unfortunately developed in the opposite direction, leading to an increase in hostility and propaganda against Arabs and Islam among Africans, particularly by African nationalists. It is essential to note that the actions of the secular state of Tunisia and its citizens cannot be reconciled with Islam. These actions are against the culture of coexistence between Arabs and black Africans, which has lasted for centuries.