Tunisia: borders, migration, solidarity. A country report

By Paolo Cuttitta and Nadia Chaouch

Tunisia is a major country of departure of boats trying to reach Italy along the so-called Central Mediterranean Route. This year’s events, from president Saïed’s speech and the following racist attacks on sub-Saharan migrants in February to the mass deportations and the signature of a deal with the European Union in July, have thrust Tunisia into the international spotlight.

This report summarizes the developments of migration-related dynamics and control policies in this country, since Tunisia was co-opted into the European border regime in the 1990s, and sheds light on initiatives from civil society actors in solidarity with people on the move.

Section 2 provides an overview of Tunisia as a country of emigration, immigration and transit alike. It describes how human mobility from and through Tunisia was gradually subjected to restrictions in the last decades, both before and after the 2011 revolution. The section provides figures about foreign residents in Tunisia, Tunisians residing abroad, as well as people (both Tunisian and third country nationals) attempting the sea-crossing to Italy.

Section 3 describes the development of civil society in Tunisia and relevant initiatives in solidarity with people on the move, from the Ben Ali era, with very few existing NGOs and very limited room for manoeuvre, to post-revolutionary Tunisia, with the arrival of international NGOs and the mushrooming of local civil society organizations.

Section 4 embeds migration in the economic and political crisis that has affected Tunisia in the last few years, also fuelling anti-migrant sentiments among the population. It argues that the country’s instability led to the authoritarian turn imposed by president Saïed, which culminated in the latter’s xenophobic speech of February, 21st, 2023 and the following instances of generalized violence on sub-Saharan migrants, with solidarity initiatives from the Tunisian civil society trying to stem the racist drift.

Section 5 describes the Tunisian asylum system and the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and addresses the issue of Tunisia as a (non-)safe country for Tunisians and foreign migrants alike.

Full titleUnspecified
AuthorPaolo Cuttitta and Nadia Chaouch
PublisherRivista di Storia delle Idee 12:2 (2023) pp. 13-30
Media typeArticle
Topics European Agencies (Frontex, GIZ & Co), European Externalization Policies & Cash Flows
Regions North Africa

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