We, members of the Migration and Refugee Forum for the Arab World (MARFA) condemn the recent escalation of violence against migrants and refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia, and deeply regret the official statements that unleashed it. We remind the Tunisian government that this is contrary to the international human rights treaties Tunisia signed, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In the last two weeks, many migrant workers and refugees from the Sub-Saharan African community living in Tunisia, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained regardless of their legal status, assaulted, abused, aggressed, and robbed, in private and public spaces, just for the color of their skin. Many have been evicted from their homes and even banned from private and public transportation. This is shocking and enraging. We ask Tunisian authorities to de-escalate the current tension: a Presidential statement calling for calm and restoring public order is warranted, while investigations and accountability over all the violations that have occurred in the last two weeks should not be delayed.
Regrettably, anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiments are not uncommon in the Arab region. In recent years, this is being exasperated by European migration and border control policies. Aimed at preventing migrants and refugees from crossing the Mediterranean sea to enter Europe, these policies are transforming the Arab region into a ‘super-camp’, (from North Africa to Jordan and Lebanon, with the horrible consequences visible in Libya). In our countries, migrants and refugees are contained among an increasingly impoverished population, owing to broader geopolitical issues. That is why we, as MARFA, recently gathered in Jordan to discuss the plight of discrimination against foreigners across the Mediterranean region and the need to resolve it in the spirit of humanity. Little we knew that a few months later, the very country that has been the first in the Muslim world to ban slavery and the first Arab country in recent years to rise for democracy, would write such a dark page in the history of our region.
The Tunisian President’s statement, a possible attempt to address the problem of containing refugees and migrants in North Africa and Tunisia in particular completely missed the point (by denouncing the campaign to change Tunisia’s demographics), with disastrous consequences. States that effectively protect and promote respect for human rights, aim to always enforce those rights for all. Therefore, we call on Tunisian authorities and citizens, as well as all residents of Tunisia, including the international community, to work together to uphold this important commitment and protect the rights of all foreigners, especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa who are now in grave danger. The challenge lies not only with Tunisia, but with all of us.