Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ivorians in Tunisia Repatriated

FILE: Foufana Abou, an Ivory Coast national living in Tunisia and seeking repatriation, waits with other Ivorians near the embassy of Ivory Coast in Tunis, Tunisia February 27, 2023.

TUNIS - Almost 300 Ivorians were repatriated on Thursday from Tunisia, where migrants say they no longer feel safe after President Kais Saied had said they represented a demographic threat.

The ambassador of Ivory Coast in Tunis, Ibrahim Sy Savane, said 287 people - including 21 toddlers - were flown back to Abidjan on a jumbo jet chartered from Ethiopian Airlines.

With the latest departures, a total of 1,053 Ivorians have been repatriated from Tunisia since chartered flights began in early March, Savane told AFP.

Just under 3,000 Ivorians have registered with the embassy for repatriation, Savane said.

Describing "a race against time", the Ivorian ambassador said the country was planning to charter further repatriation flights.

He said he wanted "to prevent more desperate people from throwing themselves into the Mediterranean with little chance of survival."

Ivorians are able to enter Tunisia without a visa, and roughly 7,000 live there, the country's largest sub-Saharan African community.

While some migrants come to study, many use Tunisia as a springboard for attempts to reach Europe by sea. European governments have pressured Tunis to rein in the flow.

Parts of Tunisia's coastline are within 150 kilometers of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

At least three deadly shipwrecks of boats carrying migrants, including many Ivorians, have been recorded off Tunisia since early March.

Saied on February 21 accused immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa of causing a wave of "violence and crime", saying they aimed to "change the demographic composition" of Tunisia and separate it from the Islamic and Arab worlds.

Tunisia, a North African country of 12 million people, hosts an estimated 21,000 migrants from other parts of Africa, representing 0.2 percent of the population.

In the days after Saied's speech, migrants had reported an upsurge in racist attacks and many were evicted into the streets by landlords fearing large fines or prison for housing them.

Those who worked informally in construction and other sectors also lost their jobs, and thousands rushed to their embassies to be repatriated.