Tunisie: What We Know About the Situation in Sfax

news 07-Jul-2023 Africa

Tunisie: What We Know About the Situation in Sfax, Where Sub-Saharan Migrants Are Victims of Violence and Waves of Arrests Violent Protests Erupt in Sfax

Routes blocked, tires set on fire... In Sfax, violence erupted once again on the night of Tuesday, July 4th, to Wednesday, July 5th. In several neighborhoods of this coastal city in eastern Tunisia, hundreds of people gathered to demand the immediate departure of undocumented migrants.

The revolt ignited on Monday after the death of a local resident who was stabbed during clashes with migrants from Cameroon, according to Tunisian authorities. Three migrants suspected of being involved in the murder were arrested, announced the Public Prosecutor's Office in Sfax. Since then, newcomers have become the target of both residents and law enforcement. Franceinfo sheds light on the tense atmosphere prevailing in this major port city on the Mediterranean coast.

Streets Transformed into Battlefields

Confrontations involving stone-throwing clashes erupted on Sunday between sub-Saharan migrants and Sfax residents. Vehicles and houses were damaged. Law enforcement has since increased arrests of undocumented migrants. In a video filmed on Monday, verified by Les Observateurs de France 24, a jubilant crowd of locals can be seen applauding policemen as they apprehend migrants at their homes. "Long live Tunisia! Sfax is not a colony. Get out, get out! Go back home!" exclaims the person filming the video.

"The streets have turned into battlefields, with both Tunisians and Sub-Saharan migrants suffering serious injuries, fires, assaults, robberies, and the police forces being powerless!" lamented Franck Yotedje, director of the association Afrique intelligence, which works for the defense of migrants' rights, on Facebook on Monday.

Night of Horror

Lazhar Neji, an emergency doctor at a hospital in Sfax, described Tuesday as an "inhuman" and "bloody" night on a Facebook group dedicated to the issue of illegal immigration called "Sayeb Trottoir." According to him, the hospital received between 30 and 40 migrants, including women and children. "Some were thrown from terraces, others were attacked with sabers," he stated.

"Many are left to themselves, they have been evicted from their homes and end up living on the streets without any associative assistance," reported Lilia Blaise, France 24's correspondent in Tunisia on Thursday. Some confess to "having nothing to eat and living in a park or even on the streets of Sfax."
Migrants Forcibly Returned to the Libyan Border

In a joint statement, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), which monitors migration issues, and more than 20 other Tunisian and international NGOs asserted that security forces had taken a "group of 100 migrant and refugee people" from the Sfax region to the Libyan border on Tuesday. "The group includes several nationalities, including Ivorian, Cameroonian, and Guinean, with at least twelve children aged between 6 months and 5 years," they stated.

Some migrants were "beaten and abused," the NGOs added, calling on the Tunisian authorities to "provide clarification on these events and urgently intervene to ensure the wellbeing of these individuals." According to testimonies collected by Le Monde, migrants were dropped off on a beach in the middle of the desert, in the border area between Libya and Tunisia. Men, women, and children were still stranded on this sandbank on Wednesday, as seen in a video received by the newspaper.

Hostile Climate Towards Migrants for Several Months

The anger of Sfax residents towards migrants has been brewing for months. Romdhane Ben Amor, responsible for communication at FTDES, confided to AFP that the current tension in the port city was "expected." "This outburst of violence is due to several months of waiting. The people of Sfax are waiting for the state to intervene," analyzed Mohamed Farhat, a senior reporter in Tunisia for France 24. The city has "thousands of sub-Saharan undocumented migrants, as it is a hub of immigration," added the journalist. Most asylum seekers come here in an attempt to subsequently reach Europe by sea, disembarking on the Italian coasts.

Tensions between locals and migrants escalated after a speech in February by Tunisian President Kais Saied. Openly hostile to immigration, he had described it as a demographic threat to his country. On Tuesday, the Tunisian leader said that his country "does not accept on its territory anyone who does not respect its laws, nor to be a country of transit [to Europe] or a land of resettlement for nationals of certain countries. Africans".

To escape the violence and arrests, "hundreds of sub-Saharans are queuing up to take the train. There is an escape from the city of Sfax after these nights of chaos", reports journalist Mohamed Farhat.

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