Several sub-Saharan countries, including the Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea and Gabon, are helping their citizens return from Tunisia after controversial comments made by the country’s president last month about illegal immigration to the North African country.
Speaking at a February 21 meeting of Tunisia’s National Security Council, President Kais Saied described alleged illegal border crossings from sub-Saharan Africa into the country as a “criminal enterprise that arose at the beginning of this century to of Tunisia”.
Saied said the continued illegal immigration aims to turn Tunisia into “just an African country that does not belong to the Arab and Muslim world”, adding that those behind this plan are involved in human trafficking.
The African Union strongly condemned the Tunisian government’s statements, calling them “racial” and “shocking”.
“The Chair reminds all countries, in particular African Union Member States, to fulfill their obligations under international law and relevant African Union instruments to treat all migrants with dignity, wherever they come from, refrain from radicalized hate speech that can harm people, and prioritize their security and human rights”, the AU said in a statement on Feb. 24.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast said 145 citizens will be repatriated on Saturday, the Ivorian news agency reported on Friday.
Mali also announced the voluntary repatriation of its citizens from Tunisia, according to a report Thursday in the state newspaper L’Essour. Meanwhile Guinea posted images to Twitter of junta leader Colonel Mamady Doumbouya welcoming returning Guineans at the airport in Conakry on Saturday and last Wednesday.
The Gabonese embassy in Tunisia said many migrants from sub-Saharan countries no longer feel safe in Tunisia and offered to repatriate its citizens, who have until Sunday to register for voluntary repatriation.
In another speech on February 23, Saied claimed that there is no racial discrimination in Tunisia and said that “our African brothers who reside legally in Tunisia” are welcome in the country.
Tunisian authorities arrested 58 African migrants on Friday after they allegedly crossed the border and stayed in the country illegally, state news agency TAP reported Saturday.