ROME – Report of the non-governmental organization “Abuse, corruption and accountability: it’s time to rethink migration cooperation between the European Union and Tunisia” Refugees International sheds light on systematic violations of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Tunisia. And it asks Europe and the United States to review their funding, and generally their entire approach, to managing migration in the central Mediterranean.
Structural factors of migration. There are some elements in the analysis of migration flows that are fixed because they are difficult to change. First of all, the proximity of Tunisia to Italy, and thus to Europe, which makes it a safer transit country, in the perception of migrants, than Libya or Algeria. Second, the poverty and violence that daily forces thousands of sub-Saharan Africans to leave their countries in search of a future. And third, Tunisia’s inability to stand up to its more powerful neighbor, Algeria, which is pushing thousands of migrants toward the border. However, in the meantime, the Tunisian context has changed, because between the economic crisis due to the increase in debt, inflation and lack of food supplies and the political crisis turning towards authoritarianism, the level of security, as well as the standard of living in the small North African country, have greatly deteriorated. Especially for migrants and refugees.
Exodus from Tunisia. In this context of economic and political instability, journeys across the Mediterranean intensified and Tunisia became the main transit country for those wishing to reach Europe. As he reports Refugees International, between January and September 2023, some 90,601 migrants left the Tunisian coast to reach Italy, or four times the number who attempted the journey in 2022. “Parts of the coast and the south of Tunisia have become the Silicon Valley of human trafficking,” he comments. local activist. In the absence of valid economic alternatives, the travel of hope industry has become “a key means of livelihood for many Tunisian families and social networks,” explains an activist interviewed by the NGO.
Collusion between the police and human traffickers. According to the data collected by the authors of the dossier, the collusion between security agents and human traffickers, especially in southern Tunisia, is so entrenched that it is almost utopian to think about eradicating it in the short term. “The Greatest Public Secret” defined him as the academic he spoke with Refugees International. The various ways in which Tunisian security forces allegedly exploit human trafficking include: bribes in exchange for protection; patrol and surveillance operations; purchase of boats and motors at a favorable price from members of the police force or other persons connected with them; confiscation of cash and other personal property by police at migrant gathering points prior to boarding.
Travel. Many of the migrants interviewed Refugees International they emphasized that, contrary to what is thought especially in Europe, most of them manage to reach Tunisia without turning to human traffickers. Especially those departing from sub-Saharan Africa can organize their trip to Tunisia by using a local means of transport. Several migrants from Sierra Leone, for example, said they took informal taxis and walked long distances to cross Guinea, Mali and Algeria and only turned to traffickers to cross the Mediterranean when they reached Tunisia. Based on the data provided in the file, the people who arrived in Europe in 2023 mainly come from: Guinea, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Syria, Mali, Cameroon.
Violence against people. After the arbitrary and illegal expulsion of thousands of Africans to the desert areas bordering Libya and Algeria in early July, the Tunisian government then backtracked and relocated hundreds of people to the south of the country. In that period, according to the collected data, it appears that 86 percent of the refugees suffered physical violence, and 85 percent confirm that the perpetrators of the violence are the Tunisian security forces. The report highlights the government’s consistent punitive tactics against migrants, including the deliberate blocking of emergency aid to NGOs and transfers of displaced people from urban centers to rural areas without access to services.
The responsibility of the West. The collusion with traffickers from the south is well established and unlikely to be resolved quickly by the government in Tunisia, meaning the Tunisia deal could have a limited effect on stemming the outflow. At the same time, such a partnership could put pressure on the central government in Tunisia to commit to fighting the exodus, as happened in July. But this type of operation also involves massive human rights violations. The structural factors that turned Tunisia into a major center of Mediterranean migration – geographical proximity to Europe, relative stability compared to its neighbours, ease of transit from sub-Saharan Africa and the instability of many countries in Africa itself – are immutable elements and in fact the EU’s deterrence policy has failed to discourage migration , just as the serious abuses of the Tunisian security forces did not succeed. Instead of focusing on the number of irregular immigrants and how to reduce them, the authors of the report suggest, the EU should first intensify legal entry channels for vulnerable migrants and then expand resettlement channels for refugees.