Hundreds protest in Tunisia to denounce racism

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Tunisia’s capital on Saturday to denounce racism and show solidarity with migrants, after the country’s president, Kais Saied, claimed that sub-Saharan Africans were part of a plot to erase the country’s identity.

The protest in Tunisia, organized by Tunisia’s journalists union and several non-governmental organizations, saw protesters shouting slogans such as “no to racism,” “solidarity with migrants,” and “no to police crackdown” as they marched through central Tunis.

Saied had earlier in the week called for “urgent measures” to address the entry of irregular immigrants from sub-Saharan countries, citing “violence, crimes, and unacceptable practices.” The comments prompted an increasing number of racist assaults against sub-Saharan migrants, according to Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights.

“We noted attempts to drive some migrants out of their homes,” Amor told The Associated Press. “Others are being prevented from taking public transportation.”

Tunisian comedian Fatma Saidane also spoke out against the discrimination, calling on people to show a “civic-minded attitude” towards those living on Tunisian soil.

“We must not assault or insult people who live on our soil, in the same way we don’t accept our compatriots to be ill-treated in Europe,” she said.

Recent days have seen around 100 sub-Saharan migrants detained for illegally crossing the Tunisian border, according to Riadh Nouioui, the deputy prosecutor of Kasserine. Other migrants enter the country from neighboring Libya.

Saied’s comments have drawn criticism from NGOs and sparked outrage on social media. Tunisia, which was once lauded as the only budding democracy in the Arab world, has seen a recent crackdown on opposition politicians and activists. Several opposition figures, including judges, politicians, activists, businessmen, and the head of an independent radio station, have been arrested in recent weeks. The accusations against them range from threatening state security to being responsible for recent price increases.

On Friday, the African Union denounced the remarks made by Tunisia’s president as “racialised hate speech.”

The African Union statement on Friday, expressed “deep shock and concern” at the “form and substance” of the president’s remarks, regardless of the migrants’ legal status in the country. The Tunisian foreign ministry was taken aback by the African Union’s statement, dismissing it as “baseless accusations.”

The president’s comments have sparked widespread criticism from civil rights organizations and on social media. This controversy comes amid the country’s prolonged economic crisis and a mounting crackdown on critics, who accuse the president of an illegal power grab after he suspended parliament in 2021.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Slim Abid, file

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