Hostility towards foreigners has risen sharply after three migrants were detained during an investigation regarding the death of a 41-year old Tunisian citizen in the port city of Sfax. The spokesman for the prosecution revealed that twenty-two other migrants from sub-Saharan countries were also detained and questioned. The case has intensified the ongoing hostility against Black refugees and migrants in the African nation. Following the victim’s funeral, Tunisian residents barricaded roads and burned tires while demanding that authorities return migrants to their homelands.
And the authorities are doing just that. A 29-year-old Ivorian revealed details about the treatment of migrants who are forced into shelters or out of the country; taken from their homes by military authorities, they are beat “like animals, like slaves,” and the women are assaulted, he reported to the Associated Press.
This xenophobia is not exclusive to Tunisia. Anti-immigrant sentiment has intensified internationally, especially among populations with a high influx of refugees. A worldwide rise in nationalism and anti-globalism has fueled people’s perception of immigrants as a threat, to their safety, cultures, and national identities. Movements to “take back” their respective countries have citizens using ethnic, racial, political, and economic justifications to fight against the demographic changes occurring within their borders.
“These things have generated some level of anxiety among particularly white, native-born populations and a perceived status loss at the group level among these folks, which then makes both nationalist and populist claims – and, especially, nationalist-populist claims – more resonant and more salient than they had been in the past,” says Bart Bonikowski, a Harvard professor of sociology and resident faculty member at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.
Mistreatment of Black refugees in Tunisia is another example of such behavior. President Kais Saied demanded authorities use harsh measures to expel Black Africans from Tunisia, claiming they are a plot to eradicate Tunisia’s national identity. Thus encouraged, videos of crowds setting fires to buildings housing Black immigrants and police vehicles rounding up and detaining Black people have circulated on social media.
The international community cannot condone this state-sanctioned xenophobia and racism. Nationalistic sentiment framing other countries as enemies always ends up directly affecting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers – some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Tunisia is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and, therefore, has pledged to promote and protect each person’s right to “freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5) and “freedom of movement” (Article 12). It is past time that the international community held the nation to its oath.
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