UN experts have this week raised concern about Tunisia’s allegedly discriminatory treatment of sub-Saharan migrants, and urged the authorities to take urgent measures to stop collective expulsions and protect the human rights of all migrants.
“Collective expulsions are prohibited under international law,” they said. “Deporting migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers without conducting an individual and objective risk assessment of their exposure to human rights violations upon return amounts to refoulement, prohibited under international human rights law.”
The experts contacted the Tunisian Government in March, expressing concern at reports of racist treatment of sub-Saharan migrants and collective expulsions targeting sub-Saharan migrants, as well as of violence and racist hate speech by officials and law enforcement.
“We call on the authorities to immediately halt any further deportations and to continue and expand humanitarian access to a dangerous area on the Tunisian-Libyan border where many, including pregnant women and children, have already been deported,” they said.
This comes after a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report revealed that Tunisian security forces have been forcibly expelling several hundred black African migrants and asylum seekers since the start of July from Sfax to a militarised border zone between Tunisia and Libya.
Sfax is a Tunisian port town close to the island of Lampadusa in Italy and hundreds of people have gathered here in recent weeks hoping to make the journey to Europe and escape rising racism in the country.
Attacks on black Africans in Tunisia have increased and worsened since February, when the president announced immigration was a plot aimed at changing Tunisia’s demography.
A group was also taken by bus from Sfax and dumped on the border with Algeria. The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights has said migrants on the border could die if they are not given shelter and aid.
Video footage of people in the desert shows their bodies covered in wounds, one with a broken ankle. “All of this was done by the Tunisian army. All of this. All of it was done by the Tunisians,” one of them said.
The UN experts said the principle of non-refoulement, enshrined in international human rights law, applies to all forms of expulsion, regardless of nationality or migration status. They stressed that the targeting of migrants and asylum seekers on the basis of their skin colour also violates the prohibition of racial discrimination under international law.
“We are also deeply concerned about reports of racist hate speech in the country, and reports of violence against migrants in Sfax, including perpetrated by law enforcement officials,” they continued. “Racial hate speech that constitutes incitement to discrimination has real consequences, including violence.”