The head of the ruling military council in the Republic of Guinea, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, greeted around fifty Guinean citizens at Conakry Airport on Wednesday upon their return from Tunisia. The Guineans, including women and children, were on an aircraft chartered by the government to evacuate them from the North African country where attacks against African immigrants have escalated since recent controversial statements by President Kais Saied.
Saied called last week for the Tunisian security forces to take "urgent measures" against "hordes" of sub-Saharan African migrants in the country. He said that their presence is a source of "violence and crimes" and part of a "criminal arrangement" aimed at "changing the demographic composition of Tunisia."
A number of the migrants who landed at Conakry were carrying their babies. Marietou Diallo, who is in her thirties, told AFP that she had gone to Tunisia to give birth. "When this problem started, we felt a sense of hatred and rejection against us in the hospital," she explained. "My companion on the trip came quickly to pick me up before my scheduled stay in the hospital was over. Along the way, we survived two attacks with my baby in my arms. It was horrific and dangerous."
Guinea's health system suffers from many problems due to years of mismanagement by successive governments. Tunisia is a popular choice for many foreigners seeking quality medical care.
READ: human rights organisations condemn Saied's 'racist' migrant speech
Algassimo Sangari told AFP that he was in Sfax and wanted to "cross to Italy", but the "anti-black feelings" prompted him to go to Tunis. In the car he was accompanied by two Tunisian women. "On the way, I almost got killed at a checkpoint set up by disruptive youths. These two Tunisian women saved my life because they shouted at them."
Guinean Foreign Minister Morissanda Kouyaté said that the government will establish an air bridge between Conakry and Tunisia to return all those who wish to return.
Meanwhile, the Ivory Coast government announced on Wednesday that it had also started a "repatriation operation" from Tunisia for about 500 of its citizens. "The most urgent thing is to save lives, to prevent injuries," said government spokesman Amadou Coulibaly after a cabinet meeting. Return flights could be ready this week.
Numerous Tunisian human rights organisations denounced Saied's speech and called it "racist" and calling for "hate". The president's words sparked panic among immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who have since reported an escalation of attacks against them. Dozens are reported to have rushed to their embassies for repatriation.
According to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, more than 21,000 immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa live in Tunisia, which has a population of 12 million. Most of the immigrants are "irregular".
READ: Tunisia calls for Arab support amid tension over irregular migration