29th Sep 2023

Tunisia abusing African migrants, says leading NGO

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

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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.

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