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Sub-Saharan Africa Migrants Feel Tunisia Heat

FILE: Protesters lift placards during a demonstration in Tunis on February 25, 2023, against controversial remarks by the Tunisian President regarding illegal migrants that critics said were openly racist.

Since Tunisia's president announced a crackdown on illegal immigration last week using language the African Union denounced as racialized, Malian construction worker Mohamed Kony has been evicted from his apartment and sacked from his job.

"I am confused and worried," said Mali citizen Mohamed Kony, 32, who has lived in Tunis for five years and appeared well liked in his neighborhood, where Tunisian residents said they enjoyed his cheerful demeanor and often employed him for small repair jobs.

Unemployed, homeless and without legal residency, he now fears he will face the fate of several of his friends who have been attacked on the street.

"I can't believe we are a problem here," he said, his eyes skipping to each end of the road in case of a police car.

Kony's problems began last week, when President Kais Saied said there had been a conspiracy to change Tunisia's racial makeup, ordering security forces to stop all illegal immigration and to expel any migrants living in Tunisia illegally.

"The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations," he said.

Official figures say there are 21,000 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries in Tunisia. The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), a group that works with migrants, said the true figure was likely higher, but not more than 50,000.

Saied's speech - repeating the "great replacement" theory that political elites are replacing native inhabitants with immigrant supporters - was called "shocking" by the African Union but praised by French far-right politician Eric Zemmour.

When Saied issued a second statement last week, he denied being racist and said he only wanted police to implement Tunisian law, but he repeated the idea that there had been a conspiracy to change Tunisia's demographics.

Social media has, meanwhile, filled with accounts by darker-skinned people in Tunisia, including migrants with and without valid visas, African students and Black Tunisians, of ill treatment and fear.

They have described detentions for not carrying identity papers, insults, stone throwing, evictions and job losses.

FTDES said it had documented hundreds of arbitrary arrests and hundreds of evictions without notice.

More disturbingly, it said it had documented some violent assaults, including with knives, that police had been slow to respond to. The Interior Ministry has said it will comply with all national laws and international treaties with full respect for human rights.

Saied's critics say the crackdown is consistent with his increasingly fiery, conspiracy-laden rhetoric as he pursues a parallel crackdown on political opponents, accusing them of plotting against the state with foreign backing.

Both were preceded by social media campaigns among online groups of Saied supporters that his critics say were increasingly intertwined with his approach to rule.

African Migrants in Tunisia Reel Under Attacks
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