Tunisia called on Wednesday 1 March on Arab countries to back it against the pressure the country is under following President Kais Saied’s statements on sub-Saharan migrants. This was during a meeting of Arab interior ministers in Tunis.
Tunisian Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine said on Wednesday that Tunisia hopes to count on the support of Arab countries regarding the “unjustified and unprecedented attack” against the country in recent days. Taoufik Charfeddine is referring to the tension between this North African country and the African Union after the statements of President Kais Saied.
Indeed, on Tuesday 21 February, Tunisian President Kais Saied made a “racist and hateful” speech towards African migrants. In this connection, he suggested that migrants from sub-Saharan Africa represented a demographic threat to his country.
These remarks caused a stir not only in Tunisia but also internationally. Thus, following the example of several organisations, the African Union also condemned the “shocking statements (…) against fellow Africans which go against the letter and spirit of our Organisation and our founding principles”. The AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also called on Tunisia to treat migrants with dignity.
However, the head of Tunisian diplomacy, Nabil Ammar, took to the stage on Saturday 25 February to defend, on France 24, Kaïs Saïed’s anti-migrant declarations, deemed shocking by the African Union.
“These are accusations that we reject,” he defended, adding that “illegal migration is a problem in every country,” and that “acknowledging that there is a problem is not hate speech at all.
“This is a really bad trial of misinterpretation of the words of the high Tunisian authorities on this subject. It’s been a few days since this happened and now we have to keep a cool head, we have to appease, and the messages of appeasement have already been transmitted through official and other channels,” he further told AFP.
In addition, North African countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco, due to their geographical proximity to the West, have been experiencing migration attempts in recent years. The travellers come mainly from sub-Saharan African countries, with the sole aim of reaching Europe in the hope of a better life. Although some migrants risk their lives to reach their goal, others often die on their way.
According to official figures quoted by the FTDES, an NGO that closely monitors migration issues in Tunisia, there are more than 21,000 sub-Saharan African migrants, the majority of whom are in an irregular situation, even though the country has only about 12 million inhabitants.