Arabs In Tunisia Face World Backlash After Comments By President, Racist Attacks On African Migrants

Arabs In Tunisia Face World Backlash After Comments By President, Racist Attacks On African Migrants


People demonstrate against Tunisian President Kais Saied's comment on migration. (AP Photo/ Hassene Dridi) / Tunisia's President Kais Saied speaks during a media conference. (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP, File)

Migrants from other parts of Africa say they are facing racism from Arabs in the African country of Tunisia. 

Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east.

The country’s population is predominantly comprised of Arabs (98 percent, including Arab-Berbers), according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s The World Factbook. Other ethnic groups include 1 percent European, who settled in the country, and 1 percent of different ethnic groups, including mainly Berbers and sub-Saharan migrants.

Ironically, in 2018 Tunisia became first Arab country, and the second in Africa after South Africa, to make racial discrimination illegal.

On Feb. 23, Tunisia’s president publicly renounced racism and denied the government crackdown on illegal migrants was racist.

Around 21,000 undocumented sub-Saharan African migrants live in Tunisia, according to official figures, of a population of 12 million, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Yet in a statement on Feb. 21 telling security forces to expel all illegal immigrants, President Kais Saied called migration a conspiracy to change Tunisia’s demographics by making it more African and less Arab, Reuters reported.

Tunisian police detained hundreds of migrants; landlords have been evicting hundreds from their homes, and hundreds of others were fired from work, rights groups say.

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It seems in response to the global backlash, the president walked back his statement. In his later remarks, he said that Tunisia was proud to be an African country and announced a relaxation of visa rules for African citizens, allowing stays of up to six months instead of three without seeking residency and a year for students.

He also said migrants who had overstayed could leave without penalty after many of those authorities sought to deport had proven unable to pay fines for late stays.

Still, there has been an outcry. The African Union has postponed a conference that was due to take place in Tunisia this month, Bloomberg reports, after criticism over a government crackdown and racial attacks against sub-Saharan nationals. Additionally, the World Bank says it is pausing future Tunisia work amid reports of racist violence, World Bank President David Malpass told staff in a note seen by Reuters.

He said the World Bank would be monitoring their impact.

People demonstrate against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s comment on migration, Feb. 25, 2023 in Tunis. President Kais Saied said Tuesday that “urgent measures” were needed to address the entry of irregular immigrants from sub-Saharan countries, “with their lot of violence, crimes and unacceptable practices.” Saied’s comments at a National Security Council meeting raised a storm on social media and condemnations from nongovernmental organizations. (AP Photo/ Hassene Dridi)/Tunisia’s President Kais Saied speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels, Feb. 18, 2022. The Tunisian government is trying to tamp down criticism, and denunciations of racism, after President Kais Saied shocked many citizens _ and frightened some Africans here _ by saying that the presence of sub-Saharan migrants was part of a plot to transform the country into a “purely African” state, erasing its Arab and Islamic identity. (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP, File)