Over 370 researchers, activists and members of civil society groups have signed an open letter slamming Tunisia’s deal with the EU over migration.
Under the deal the EU will give the North African country €100 million ($109.4 million) in exchange for stronger border controls.
The deal has been heavily criticised by rights groups because of the government’s policy against black African migrants since February, when President Kais Saied’s racist comments saw armed mobs attack migrants in the streets, arbitrary arrests, expulsions from housing and from jobs.
A press release from the presidency described African migrants as “hordes” who are a threat to “the demographic composition” of Tunisia.
“Tunisia now shows its own will to strengthen a system of exclusion and exploitation of those who come from sub-Saharan African countries,” the open letter reads.
“Instead of denouncing this further racist escalation, based on a populist and conspiratorial discourse
“In an opportunist and irresponsible way, the EU consolidates the presidential discourse and fuels anti-migrant and anti-black phobia, as well as conveying the image of a Europe that helps Tunisia to protect its borders and not European ones.”
Following the increase in violence, many African migrants moved to Sfax, an industrial hub in southern Tunisia, and a major port town which is close to Italy’s Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe.
Human Rights Watch recorded how they had then been expelled by security forces to the Tunisia-Libya border with little food and medical assistance, in the baking heat.
Some of the women reported being raped, others tortured and beaten. Many locals who were initially helping withdrew after fear of reprisals from the police.
Tunisia is facing an economic and food crisis, which many have blamed on the country’s black African population.
International law experts and humanitarian groups have for weeks warned that the EU-Tunisia deal could lead to severe human rights violations including an acceptance of Tunisia’s increasingly repressive behaviour and its continuation.