When lives don't count: A survivor's testimony

Image taken from a video that was circulating on social media

The testimony below was collected by Alarm Phone on the 4th of August from a survivor. Several videos circulated on social media mentioning the attack described by the witness. See here.

“My name is X., I am from Nigeria. I had to leave my country because I could not live there anymore and had to find a better place to help my family. I arrived in Sfax three months ago where I found a difficult situation, with migrants suffering from violations. I tried to escape by crossing the sea but I was intercepted and returned back to Tunisia.

I left again by boat on the 2nd of August, from Sfax. The boat was an iron boat and was very scary. I was traveling with 31 persons, including one girl. They were from Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia. We left around noon. There were many boats around us.

During the night, the Tunisian coast guard came. The coast guard started to hit us with a long iron stick. The captain and some other travellers got wounded. Then, the coast guard tied a rope to our boat and took us on their boat by force.

When we were on the coast guard boat, we witnessed two other migrant boats that were intercepted at the same time. In total, we were about 120 persons who were intercepted. It was very violent. I saw the Tunisian coast guard hitting a boat with Tunisians, using a speed boat. People fell into the water.

We shouted to help them. We threw life jackets at them. There were children, women, boys… There were so many people in the water. three boys died after they were taken on the vessel. I tried to give them first aid but I could not save them. One of the kids was only 14 years old. The mothers were shouting. Some bodies were taken on board. In total, five Tunisian boys died.

In the meantime, the Tunisian coast guard called for other military boats. At least 6 came, plus helicopters. We started to protest because we did not want to return to Tunisia and because of what we had witnessed. The coast guard replied by shooting at us and one of the survivors was pushed over board. He managed to swim back to the boat but we were very scared.

We got stuck on the big vessel for several hours. We were thirsty, hungry and tired. We were hoping that a rescue vessel would take us to Italy, by finally we were disembarked in Sfax. In the port, we did not get any assistance. The coast guard noticed that some of us took pictures and videos and we were forced to delete all the footages. The Tunisians were sent to jail while the others were allowed to move freely.

I can’t get rid of the images I saw that night. I see babies drowning, and their mothers shouting… I can’t sleep anymore. My plan now is to find a way to escape from this country as soon as possible.

Thank you for being voice for the voiceless.”

The violence perpetrated by the Tunisian Coast guard was already denounced in December 2022 by Alarm Phone and many other Tunisian and transnational organisations. See here.