Tunisia is not safe! Mass deportations into the desert continue while new EU migration deal is agreed

People arrested in Zarzis and deported to the desert. Photo sent by people deported.

Today, at 8:56 CEST, Alarm Phone received the following message from someone who had been deported into the desert by Tunisian forces: “We are not well. We were attacked by armed soldiers. The Libyan forces shot at us, beat us up, and raped the women during the night. I am running out of battery.”

This person is among hundreds who have experienced mass deportations to the border region between Tunisia and Libya as well as Algeria. For about two weeks now, Alarm Phone has received distress calls from groups in dire situations: in extreme heat, they are surrounded by armed forces on either sides of the borders, blocking paths of escape. Several deaths have already been reported as well as many medical emergencies. Still, the different authorities fail to provide any medical assistance.

Alarm Phone has tried to mobilise support but despite all the evidence provided and demands for intervention, the UN organisations IOM and UNHCR fail to act while in some regions, humanitarian assistance by the Tunisian Red Crescent has reportedly been made conditional on people accepting so-called “voluntary returns”. This failure of International Organisations supposedly meant to protect the rights of refugees and migrants is shameful.

While these mass deportations are ongoing, the EU agreed to a new migration deal with the Tunisian government yesterday, Sunday 17 July 2023. In order to cooperate “more effectively on migration”, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte travelled to Tunisia and agreed on considerable financial assistance, dedicated to Tunisia’s border management and “anti-smuggling” measures.

This ‘Team Europe’ agreed to this new deal in full knowledge of the atrocities that the Tunisian government has carried out. Especially since 21 February, when president Kais Saied used racist conspiracy theories to target Black people in Tunisia, anti-Black violence has escalated, as Alarm Phone has documented and denounced, time and again.

Together with members of Tunisia’s civil society, we are trying to fight these racist pogroms, but our hands are often tied. In Tunisia, civil society actors face criminalisation and harassment by the Tunisian authorities.

If Tunisia carries out mass deportations, if Algerian and Libyan security forces assault and block the deported, if the EU politically sanctions and financially supports such violations, and International Organisations remain silent – what can we do when receiving calls from people who are slowly dying?

We will continue to stay in contact with those forced into the desert region. We will continue to amplify their voices calling for help and denounce the inhumane and racist border violence that they face.

Alarm Phone