Sub-Saharan migrants arrested in Tunisia after days of violent clashes sent to desolate region bordering Libya
Tunisian authorities have arrested three migrants suspected of involvement in the killing of a local man in the country’s coastal city of Sfax.
A spokesperson for the judiciary, Faouzi Masmoudi, told AFP on Tuesday that the suspects, thought to be from sub-Saharan Africa, are alleged to have fatally stabbed a man in his early forties during a scuffle on Monday.
He said preliminary information indicates that all three are from Cameroon.
Police fired tear gas on Sunday to break up clashes, which saw residents and migrants hurling stones at each other.
Tensions have been rising for months in Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city and a transit point for migrants attempting to reach Europe. According to Italian government data, more than 32,000 migrants, including 18,000 Tunisians, arrived illegally in the country in 2022.
Locals often protest the migrants’ presence, accusing them of rioting and disorderly behaviour, while the migrants claim they are subjected to racist abuse.
In May, three Tunisians were arrested on suspicion of having murdered a Beninese migrant.
Official figures cited by the NGO Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights suggest that there are an estimated 21,000 migrants from other parts of Africa in Tunisia, which has a population of 12 million.
Tunisia removed hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants to a desolate area along the border with Libya, a local rights group and a lawmaker said on Wednesday, with witnesses reporting dozens more put on outbound trains following days of violence.
Ramadan Ben Omar at the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights told Reuters that police had sent back hundreds of migrants including women and children this week and left them in a closed military zone along the desert border with Libya.
Moez Barakallah, a lawmaker from Sfax, said authorities had provided migrants removed from Sfax with meals and medicines and had sent about 1,200 of them to areas near the Libyan and Algerian borders. He said border security officers had taken charge of the migrants and would decide on further steps.
Ben Omar said rights activists in Sfax had reported beatings of migrants, ejections from accommodation they had rented and arbitrary detentions by local residents over the past several days before police intervened and restored order. Unverified videos posted on social media showed young Tunisian men in Sfax detaining migrants, raising sticks and asking them to repeat, “Long live Tunisia.”
Hundreds of residents rallied last month, demanding authorities deport thousands of illegal migrants, while over the past months several migrants have lost their lives along the Sfax shoreline.
The European commission recently offered the North African country funding to support its efforts to combat illegal migration and to restore economic stability.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has stated repeatedly that his country will not serve as a border guard for Europe and will not accept the settlement of immigrants.
In February, Saied claimed that migrants were responsible for the majority of crime in Tunis, the country’s capital, a comment the African Union condemned as “racist hate speech” that only fueled unrest.