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Ivory Coast Sheltering Tunis Migrants

FILE: African migrants are pictured at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp in the southern Tunisian port of Zarzis, near the Libyan border, during a protest demanding their resettlement, on February 14, 2022.

The Ivory Coast's Tunisia embassy has provided emergency accommodation for dozens of its citizens, including young children, made homeless due to a crackdown ordered by President Kais Saied, a diplomat said Wednesday.

Landlords across Tunisia, fearing they would incur heavy fines for housing people without hard-to-obtain paperwork, started evicting migrants.

Many Ivorians ended up camping for several nights outside their embassy during a cold snap, huddling with their worldly belongings as they waited to be repatriated.

"On Monday we were swamped, but yesterday evening we managed to organize shelter for 55 people including at least four women with young children," an embassy official told AFP.

The official said the embassy had rented an entire building comprising a dozen furnished apartments.

The diplomat also said a stream of "good-willed Tunisians" had also brought donations of blankets, preserved food and bread to the embassy.

Last week, Saied had ordered security forces to take "urgent measures" against "hordes" of sub-Saharan African migrants, accusing them without evidence of causing a wave of crime and plotting to change the country's demographic make-up.

Many of the migrants had been in Tunisia for more than five years before being suddenly ordered to leave, he said, adding "people need to be given time to organize themselves".

More than 800 Ivorians have registered to be repatriated, the official added.

The embassies of West African countries have been negotiating with Tunis for a waiver of fines against those who have overstayed their visas.

Given the difficulties of obtaining residency documents from Tunisia's tortuous bureaucracy, many have racked up fines of over 1,000 euros, sums few West African migrants can afford.

"We are calling on the Tunisian authorities to waive these fines for at least three months," the diplomat said.

"You can't tell people they have to leave then not allow them to do so. It's a question of decency."

According to figures from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), drawn from official sources, around 21,000 undocumented migrants from other parts of Africa live in Tunisia, a country of about 12 million inhabitants.

That figure includes foreign university students and workers who complain they are unable to obtain the paperwork they need because of Tunisia's archaic bureaucracy.