Tunisia has witnessed a wave of anger towards migrants following President Kais Saied’s statements on 21 February, in which he denounced the arrival of “hordes of illegal migrants” to the country from sub-Saharan Africa, describing them as attempts to “change the demographiccomposition” of the country.
As a result, thousands of students have fallen victims to a hostile campaign against them. Some 100 have already been flown back to their countries of origin with help from their embassies as a result of the attacks they faced, the Association of African Students and Interns in Tunisia (AESAT) has said.
AESAT head Christian Kwongang said, “They left because of the racist campaign, arbitrary arrests and numerous evictions” from their homes, revealing that there had been “more than 400 arrests and more than 20 physical assaults, including ten using knives,” targeted immigrants in some residential neighbourhoods.
He added that no new physical assaults have been reported since 7 March but verbal abuse has continued.
Despite their legal status, students from sub-Saharan Africa found themselves on the streets due to the tightening of restrictions against them, while others were victims of what witnesses described as a “chase of blacks” carried out by “militias”.
Kwongang said students felt an “overwhelming fear”, which led AESAT to issue directives for them to only go out in emergencies. “Parents were calling us crying and worried about their children’s conditions,” he added.
However some universities have taken several measures to protect students by creating crisis cells and allocating buses to transport them or providing them access to lawyers if they are attacked. The Ministry of Higher Education has established “a listening unit and focal points in each institution for reporting”.
Kwongang believes that Tunisia’s reputation has been “severely damaged” as a result of the attacks and many students now want to continue their studies elsewhere, in Europe or Canada.