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Tunisia: Sub-Saharan Africans ‘detained in high school’

Around 50 people previously expelled to Libyan border are under armed guard and have insufficient supplies, says report
Sub-Saharan Africans expelled from Tunisia rest at a shelter after being rescued by Libyan border guards near the border town of Al-Assah on 16 July 2023 (AFP)
Sub-Saharan Africans expelled from Tunisia rest at a shelter near the Libyan border town of Al-Assah on 16 July 2023 (AFP)

Around 50 sub-Saharan Africans are being detained in a high school in southwestern Tunisia, according to a report by InfoMigrants.

Tunisian authorities expelled hundreds of Black Africans to the desert border with Libya in early July, after violent confrontations in the port city of Sfax. 

Earlier this month, most of those expelled to the militarised desert areas were brought back and sent to various public buildings, InfoMigrants said in the report published on Wednesday. 

Among them were roughly 50 people who were being "held against their will" at a high school in Kebili, a southern town in the Nefzaoua region. 

Speaking to InfoMigrants, the people held at the school said they had no information on when, or whether or not, they would be released. 

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"Nobody tells us anything, we don't know what's going on," Yvan-François from Cameroon told the migration-focused publisher. 

"We are not allowed to walk around the courtyard," he added. "When we try to get out, they say that we do not have the right to do so. Even when we ask permission to go and buy products in a shop, we are told that it is forbidden."

The school building is guarded by armed men, and video footage shared on social media suggests they are members of Tunisia’s national guard. 

'The water is not good. There are people who have fallen ill, who have no clothes or shoes'

Yvan-François, Cameroonian refugee

According to detainees, the Tunisian Red Crescent has brought food, water and clothing to the school, but the supplies were insufficient. 

"We don't eat well. The Red Crescent brings us food that is past its sell-by-date. The water is not good. There are people who have fallen ill, who have no clothes or shoes,” Yvan-François said. 

The Red Crescent and Tunisia’s national guard did not respond to requests for comment. 

Detainment regardless of documents

People being held in the school include those with and without visa documentation. 

"My daughter was going to start accountancy training," said one mother. 

“She arrived legally with a three-month renewable visa, she has her passport up to date, the school certificate and the school paid for," she explained, adding that Tunisian authorities expelled her daughter in early July despite her visa status. 

In February, Tunisian President Kais Saied linked people from sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia to criminality, in comments that were widely denounced as racist.

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"There has been a criminal plan since the beginning of the century to change the demographic structure of Tunisia, and there are parties that received large sums of money after 2011 for the settlement of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

In March, the World Bank suspended its work with Tunisia after Black Africans were attacked following the speech. 

Tunisia has since signed a $1bn migration pact with the EU, which will see the European bloc supply Tunis with financial and technical support to deter migration to Europe.

Tunisia has been engulfed in political and economic crises since July 2021, when Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government in what many have called a "constitutional coup". 

He subsequently ruled by decree, before pushing through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

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