On Thursday, a human rights group spoke out about the mistreatment of undocumented immigrants in Tunisia, urging the government to stop their abuse and expulsion. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Tunis to stop sending migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa to a dangerous part of the Tunisia-Libya border and send humanitarian aid to those already there. Hundreds of migrants have already been expelled to the border region, following a week of violence between migrants and residents in the city of Sfax. As the main port city for migrants hoping to cross the sea to Europe, Sfax has borne the brunt of the migration crisis that has been plaguing Tunisia.
A refugee and migrant rights researcher at HRW, Lauren Seibert, explained the reasoning behind their request, saying, “The Tunisian government should halt collective expulsions and urgently enable humanitarian access to the African migrants and asylum seekers already expelled to a dangerous area at the Tunisia-Libya border, with little food and no medical assistance. Not only is it unconscionable to abuse people and abandon them in the desert, but collective expulsions violate international law.”
This situation is a humanitarian crisis that shows a glimpse of a horrifying future that could become a global reality. The increase in racial tensions, xenophobia, and radicalization combined with the looming climate crisis could lead to a global immigration crisis. As more and more land becomes uninhabitable due to climate change, displaced people will be leaving their homes and seeking refuge elsewhere. If there is no plan to address situations like the one in Tunisia now, how will the world cope with the influx of climate refugees?
The expulsions are part of a larger migrant crisis in Tunisia that has persisted since President Kais Saied announced a government crackdown on illegal immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa last February. With his announcement speech that many condemned as racist, President Saied initiated a migration crisis as immigrants tried to flee Tunisia and racist attacks from residents. The Coast Guard told Reuters that they stopped 17,000 migrants in the first four months of 2023, almost 6 times as many as in the same period of 2022. After months of boiling tensions and conflict, the death of a Tunisian man sparked the most recent wave of migrant exodus.
The government of Tunisia must treat its citizens and migrants with the basic human decency that everyone deserves, and stop the expulsion of sub-Saharan Africans. Now is the time for the international community to set a precedent of addressing the mistreatment of migrants, holding Tunisia accountable for the abuse so that it does not become the norm for climate refugees.
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