Published by Joint press release | 15 / May / 2024

Tunisia, new wave of deportations and arrests against migrants and civil society

n the morning, the Lazio Regional Administrative Court will hold the second hearing in the case brought by ASGI, ARCI, ActionAid, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Spazi Circolari and Le Carbet against the financing of the conversion and transfer to Tunisia of six Italian patrol boats.

Last week, Tunisian civil society denounced the deportation of 400 migrants and asylum seekers, which was confirmed by President Saied during a meeting of the National Council. The round-ups began in camps set up in the capital, two of which are located in front of the headquarters of the UN Refugee and Migration Agency; people were then transported and abandoned in peripheral areas and on the borders with Algeria and Libya, deprived of food and water. In announcing the deportations, Saied once again referred to an alleged ethnic replacement plan in Tunisia, a statement in line with the racist and xenophobic campaign launched in February 2023, which unleashed a wave of arrests and violence against people of sub-Saharan origin. On 10 May, the UN Human Rights Committee accepted a request for urgent action to protect a group of Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers, including minors and vulnerable people, abandoned at the border with Algeria. Despite the protection order issued to Tunisia, the applicants reported that they were arrested by the National Gendarmerie on 11 May and have not been heard from since. This persecution was accompanied by intimidation and threats against activists and civil society organisations: between 3 and 6 May, there were numerous arrests and arbitrary detentions. With unprecedented violence, on Saturday 11 May, lawyer and columnist Sonia Dahmani was arrested by masked men who broke into the Tunis Criminal Chamber while a France24 programme was being filmed.

The wave of violence in recent days is a further worrying confirmation and tragic effect of the policy of externalising borders and securitarian control of migration. The memorandum of understanding signed last summer between the EU and Tunisia, which provides for the allocation of 105 million euros, mainly for migration control, the numerous visits by President Meloni, interspersed with the allocation of funds and equipment to control departures, demonstrate once again the instrumentalisation of the migration issue.

For these reasons, ASGI, ARCI, ActionAid, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Spazi Circolari and Le Carbet have challenged the decree issued by the Italian Ministry of the Interior to transfer another 6 patrol boats to the Tunisian National Guard. A second hearing is scheduled for tomorrow morning before the Lazio Regional Administrative Court, which will have to rule on the legality of the operation.

The Italian government bears a heavy responsibility for its support of Saied. Moreover, all of this is happening the day after the publication of the decree updating the list of so-called 'safe countries' - a measure that has direct consequences for asylum seekers from these countries, who risk being subjected to faster procedures with fewer guarantees and, consequently, are more exposed to the risk of repatriation. The new list reaffirms the presence of Tunisia, despite the fact that numerous reports and documents, including communications from various UN bodies, show that the North African country cannot be considered safe under international law.

We strongly reiterate the need for the Italian government and the EU to immediately cease all forms of cooperation with Tunisia that encourage the detention, return and refoulement of people to a country where they risk violence and persecution, and instead commit themselves to promoting the protection of fundamental rights and safe access to Europe,' says Antonio Manganella, Euromed Regional Director of Avocats Sans Frontières.

ASGI, ARCI, ActionAid, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Spazi Circolari and Le Carbet

Rome, 14 May 2024

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