Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed made a “racist and hateful” speech against African migrants on Tuesday 21 February. The strongman of Tunis suggested at a National Security Council meeting that migrants from sub-Saharan Africa pose a demographic threat to his country.
According to a press release from the Tunisian presidency, the meeting was “devoted to the urgent measures that must be taken to deal with the arrival in Tunisia of a large number of illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa“.
To this end, President Saied unreservedly and emphatically recommended urgent measures against illegal immigration of sub-Saharan African nationals. According to him, their presence in Tunisia was a source of “violence, crime and unacceptable acts”.
After insisting on “the need to put a rapid end” to this immigration, the university professor also pointed out that Africans are seeking to “Africanise” Tunisia in order to distance it from its “Arabness”. “There is a criminal plan to change the composition of the demographic landscape in Tunisia and some individuals have received large sums of money to give residence to sub-Saharan migrants,” the head of state was quoted as saying in a statement from the presidency of the Republic.
These words caused shock and consternation not only in the country but also abroad. They come a few days after a score of Tunisian NGOs denounced the State’s silence in the face of the rise of “hate speech” and racism against these migrants in the country.
According to these organisations, “the Tunisian state is turning a deaf ear to the rise of hateful and racist discourse on social networks and in certain media”, they lamented. In a statement, these NGOs, including the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), which is closely involved in migration issues, also reported that “in the last few days, more than 300 migrants have been arrested, taken into custody and brought to justice” in Tunisia.
Moreover, official figures quoted by the FTDES indicate that in Tunisia, a country of some 12 million inhabitants, there are more than 21,000 sub-Saharan Africans, most of them in an irregular situation. Most of these migrants arrive in Tunisia and then attempt to immigrate illegally to Europe by sea, as parts of the Tunisian coastline are less than 150 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa. According to official Italian figures, more than 32,000 migrants, including 18,000 Tunisians, arrived illegally in Italy from Tunisia in 2022, reports Africanews.