Tension escalated between Tunisia and the African Union Commission on Saturday amid a flow of irregular migrants into the North African country.
On Tuesday, Tunisian President Kais Saied called for ending the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into his country, saying irregular migration aims to change the country’s demography.
But the statements drew fire from the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who termed the Tunisian president’s comments as “shocking”.
In a statement, the commission said a meeting was held with the Tunisian envoy to express the “African Union’s deep shock and concern at the form and substance of the statement targeting fellow Africans, notwithstanding their legal status in the country.”
“The Chairperson reminds all countries, particularly African Union Member States, to honor their obligations under international law and relevant African Union instruments to treat all migrants with dignity, wherever they come from, refrain from racialized hate speech that could bring people to harm, and prioritize their safety and human rights,” the statement said.
But the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said it was surprised by the African Union Commission’s statement.
A ministry statement said the statement issued by the commission “was based on a misunderstanding of the Tunisian authorities’ position.”
The ministry regretted what it called the “unjustified and incomprehensible confusion in this statement between legal African immigrants who live in peace and under the protection of the laws of the Tunisian state, and illegal groups that traffic in human beings, throw them into death boats and exploit them for criminal purposes.”
The statement reaffirmed Tunisia’s commitment “to protecting foreign residents of all nationalities and addressing the phenomenon of irregular migration within the framework of what is stipulated in Tunisian legislation and international and African treaties, without stigmatization or generalization.”
According to French newspaper Le Monde, Tunisia is home to between 30,000 to 50,000 sub-Saharan Africans.
For years, North African countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and Morocco have witnessed attempts by migrants – mainly from sub-Saharan Africa – to reach Europe, hoping for a better life. While some of the migrants manage to reach their destination, others often die during the journey.
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