1677343352 Tunisia African Union condemns President Kais Saieds shocking comments on

Tunisia: African Union condemns President Kaïs Saïed’s ‘shocking’ comments on sub Saharan migrants

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union (AU) Commission, delivers a speech during the closing ceremony of the 36th regular session of the AU Assembly at the organization's headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission, delivers a speech during the closing ceremony of the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly at the organization’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 19, 2023. AMANUEL SILESHI/AFP

His words are not passed on in Tunisia and abroad. Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed sparked a major controversy on Tuesday when he directly attacked sub-Saharan migrants in his country who he said threatened him. In response, the African Union (AU) dismissed these statements and called on its member states to “cease any hate speech of a racist nature that is likely to harm people”, Friday 24 February.

President Saïed on Tuesday advocated “urgent action” against the illegal immigration of nationals from sub-Saharan Africa, saying their presence in Tunisia was a source of “violence, crime and unacceptable acts”. During a meeting, he also made vehement remarks about the arrival of “hordes of illegal immigrants” and insisted on the “need to put an end to this immigration quickly,” statements that were immediately denounced by several local NGOs.

In a statement signed by him on Friday, AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said “condemned[r] We reiterate the Tunisian authorities’ shocking statements to other Africans that go against the letter and spirit of our organization and our founding principles.

Also read: In Tunisia, President Kaïs Saïed attacks migrants from sub-Saharan countries

“Treat all migrants with dignity, wherever they come from”

According to the African Union, this unfortunate episode “reminds all countries, particularly African Union member states, that they must live up to their obligations under international law (…) to treat all migrants with dignity wherever they go, to refrain from racist hate speech, capable of harming human beings and prioritizing their safety and fundamental rights”. In this press release, Moussa Faki Mahamat also “reaffirms the commitment of the Commission [de l’UA] to support the Tunisian authorities in solving migration problems in order to make migration safe, dignified and regular”.

In another press release, also issued on Friday, the Malian embassy in Tunisia said it was “following with the utmost concern the situation of Malians” in the country. Referring to “moments of great concern”, it urges its nationals “to calm down and be vigilant” and recommends “those who wish [de] register for voluntary return”.

The head of Tunisia’s diplomacy, Nabil Ammar, said in a statement on Saturday that he had met with ambassadors from African countries the day before, who had rightly expressed “their concern about compliance with Tunisia’s immigration laws” and assured them “that Public authorities’ commitment to protect foreign residents of all nationalities”.

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Rise of the Tunisian Nationalist Party

Mr Saïed’s speech, who is concentrating all powers after suspending parliament and sacking the government in July 2021, came at a time when the country is grappling with a severe economic crisis, marked by recurring shortages of basic products and political tensions is exposed. In recent weeks, racist speech and hate speech have therefore taken on a new dimension, fueled by the rise of the Tunisian Nationalist Party, a recent formation that has appeared online and is calling for the expulsion of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa via an online petition.

According to official figures from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, more than 21,000 nationals from sub-Saharan Africa live in Tunisia, a country of around 12 million people, most of whom are in an irregular situation. According to local NGOs, there are more of them — between 30,000 and 50,000. A population that “does low-cost and draining work that benefits everyone and is often even abused. Their presence and irregular work on the territory were previously known and tolerated by the Tunisian state, although they have always been illegal,” points out Kenza Ben Azouz, specialist on racism in Tunisia, in an article in Le Monde.

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The world with AFP