25th Feb 2024

Tunisia abusing African migrants, says leading NGO

  • The Italian island of Lampadusa, pictured, is 130km from Tunisia. (Photo: DukeUnivLibraries)
Listen to article

Tunisian security forces have been committing serious abuses against black African migrants, says leading NGO Human Rights Watch.

The findings in a report out on Wednesday (19 July) comes as the EU and Tunisia signed a deal to stem migration flows.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Based on interviews with migrants and refugees, as well as Tunisian-based civil society, the report says the violence has been committed by the police, military, and the coast guard.

The report throws an increasingly long shadow over the EU deal with Tunisia, whose autocrat leader president Kais Saied had earlier this year ordered a crackdown against migrants.

Part of that deal includes shoring up Tunisia's land and sea borders through an additional €105m of EU funding. The country is also set to get eight new search-and-rescue vessels. Another 17 refurbished boats from a previous agreement are also in the pipeline.

Lauren Seibert, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the financial support to Tunisia means the EU also needs to share responsibly for the suffering of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Tunisia.

"Border control is no justification for trampling rights and ignoring international protection responsibilities," she said in a statement.

The report also comes amid warnings from UN experts against collective pushbacks by Tunisian authorities.

Reports have been emerging of sub-Saharan African migrants dumped along Tunisia's border with Libya and Algeria, leaving many destitute and exposed to extremely harsh desert conditions without any food or water. Human Rights Watch, in their report, say up 1,200 people were expelled.

The UN experts have since asked the Tunisian government to end the deportations, as well as to stamp out the racist hate speech against migrants in the country.

For its part, the European Commission views its deal with Tunisia, which also includes energy, trade and macro-economic stability, as a strategic partner.

But the agreement is largely seen as a political gamble by a European Union ready to cut deals with an autocrat in order to prevent people from fleeing Tunisia by boat towards Italy. Tunisia is about 130km from the Italian island of Lampedusa and has become the main departure point for people leaving towards Europe by boat.

Earlier this week, MEPs in the civil liberties committee had also slammed the deal over the lack of transparency on funding, as well as on rights abuses committed under Saied's watch.

"It's very clear a deal has been made with a dictator who's cruel, who's unreliable," said Dutch liberal MEP, Sophie In't Veld.

Similar comments were made by Birgit Sippel, a German socialist MEP.

"We are now again financing an autocrat without political democratic scrutiny here in the house. And this will not be a solution. It will strengthen an autocrat in Tunisia," she said.

Tensions and a murder at Tunisia's departure port for Lampedusa

Sfax, Tunisia's second-largest city, has become a hub for sub-Saharan migrants because it is the closest departure point for Europe, just 190km from the Italian island of Lampedusa. That's created tension with locals, who often view them as adversaries.


How law encourages exploitation of migrant workers

Even though the European labour market increasingly needs them, migrant workers from third countries remain highly vulnerable. Part of this vulnerability is an artefact of the law.


Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Latest News

  1. EU rewards Tusk's Poland on rule of law with €137bn
  2. UK-EU relations defrosting ahead of near-certain Labour win
  3. EU paid Russia €420-per-capita for fossil fuels since war began
  4. After two years of war, time to hit Putin's LNG exports
  5. Creating the conditions for just peace in Ukraine
  6. Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact
  7. Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns
  8. How Amazon lobbyists could be banned from EU Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us