Some West African migrants were set to leave Tunisia on extradition flights Saturday, fearful of a surge of violence since President Kais Saied delivered a controversial rant last month.
In his February 21 speech, Saied ordered officials to take” critical measures” to attack irregular migration, claiming without evidence that” a illicit plot” was underway” to change Tunisia’s demographic makeup”.
Saied charged that migrants were behind most crime in the North African country, fuelling a deluge of sackings, evictions and physical attacks against the community.
The African Union expressed” deep shock and concern at the form and substance” of Saied’s remarks, while governments in sub-Saharan Africa scrambled to organise the extradition of hundreds of fearful citizens who thronged to their embassies for help.
A first group of 50 Guineans were flown home on Wednesday, while Ivory Coast and Mali prepared to receive a combined 295 of their citizens on special flights on Saturday, diplomats and community organisers said.
145 people are leaving this morning after having spent the night in hotels,” Jean Badel Gnabli, head of an association of Ivorian migrants in Tunisia, told AFLM correspondent from the airport ahead of departure.
He’d said before that the whole community was living in fear.
They feel like they have been handed over to mob justice.
Ivorian ambassador Ibrahim Savane said a total of 1,100 Ivorians have applied to be repatriated from Tunisia.
According to sanctioned numbers, there are around 21,000 undocumented migrants from other region of Africa in Tunisia, a country of about 12 million occupants.
The Ivorian community figures around 7,000 people.
Michael Elie Bio Vamet, head of an Ivorian student association, said 30 students signed up for the extradition flight despite having permits to stay in Tunisia.
They do not feel comfortable,” he told AFLM correspondent by phone.” Some of them were victims of racist acts. Some are at the end of their studies, but others discontinued.”
There are attacks almost every day, risks, they’re even being kicked out by landlords or physically attacked,” he added. -‘
Hatred without reason’
Mali has also chartered a plane to accept around 150 people.
Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita has given” veritably firm instructions” to help citizens who are in distress, a Malian diplomat in Tunisia told AFLM correspondent.
Since Saied gave his speech, rights groups have reported a trident in vigilante violence including stabbings of sub-Saharan Africans.
Guineans among the first group to be repatriated on Wednesday said they had been subjected to manhunts in Tunisia.
Ibrahima Barry, 26, spoke of a surge of hatred without reason”.
In Tunisia, if I tell you that they’re savages, it isn’t too strong a word,” he told AFLM correspondent.
Many African migrants in Tunisia lost their jobs and homes overnight.
Dozens were arrested after identity checks, and some are still being detained.
Migrants whose countries have embassies in Tunisia rushed to them seeking backing.
The embassies of Ivory Coast and Mali provided emergency accommodation this week for dozens of their citizens who had been evicted from their homes, including young children.
Those with no diplomatic representation in Tunisia set up new camps outside the Tunisia offices of the International Organization for Migration.
Among those heading home are dozens of fee-paying or education scholars who were enrolled in Tunisian universities and in the country legally.
AESAT, an association that supports them, sent out a message this week urging them” not to go out, even to go to class, until authorities ensure we’re duly protected from these attacks”. The warning has been extended until Monday.
AESAT reported last month that four Ivorian students had been assaulted when they left their dorms, while a student from Gabon was attacked in her home.
Many students from sub-Saharan Africa have already flown home at their own expenditure, a student representative said.