A Tunisian migration NGO has denounced a speech by President Kais Saied as “racist and hateful” in which he maligned sub-Saharan African migrants as a source of “violence, crimes and unacceptable acts.”
On Tuesday Saied called for “urgent measures” against the migration of sub-Saharan Africans to his country. In the past some of the migrants reaching Tunisia have been refugees fleeing conflicts, including in Mali, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. Under international law it is not illegal to enter a state as a refugee.
President Saied described the arrival of “hordes of illegal migrants” and added that there was a need “to quickly put an end to this immigration.”
He also said it was part of a “criminal enterprise hatched at the dawn of this century to change the demographic composition of Tunisia.” The intention, he claimed, was to transform it into an “African only” country and blur its character as an “Arab-Muslim” one.
“This speech causes great disappointment and great consternation,” Romdhane Ben Amor, a spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) told AFP.
“This racist and hateful speech marks a sad day. The fact that the president of a country that has signed international conventions on immigration is making such a speech is extremely serious,” he said.
Mr. Saied made the speech during a meeting of the National Security Council “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,” according to a press release from the presidency.
On Sunday the Tunisian coast guard announced that it had rescued 423 migrants in a single night off the coast and foiled 16 attempts to illegally immigrate by sea to Europe.
Most of these migrants arrive in Tunisia in an attempt to migrate to Europe by sea. Some stretches of the Tunisian coastline are less than 150km from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
According to official Italian figures, more than 32,000 migrants, including 18,000 Tunisians, arrived in Italy illegally from Tunisia in 2022.