By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | TUNIS, 27 Feb 2023 (IDN) — Tunisian President Kais Saied sparked controversy last week when he complained that sub-Saharan migrants arriving in Tunisia were changing the complexion of the North African country from “Arab” to Black.
The President complained that “the undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations”.
Saied added there was a need to “put an end to this phenomenon quickly, especially as the uncontrolled immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa continue with violence [and] unacceptable crimes”.
In recent years, Tunisia has been a key transit hub for people from other African countries crossing the Mediterranean to enter Europe.
The remark prompted the African Union to issue a strongly-worded statement criticizing ‘racialized comments’ made by Tunisia’s leader berating African migrants. They called his comments “hate speech”.
Tunisia is a founding member of the African Union, which has summoned the leading Tunisian diplomat in Addis Ababa over the issue.
”The Chairperson of the African Union Commission H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the shocking statement issued by Tunisian authorities targeting fellow Africans which go against the letter and spirit of our Organization and founding principles,” a statement from his spokesperson said.
Hundreds of protesters in Tunisia’s capital also protested the President’s remark, taking to the streets to denounce racism and express solidarity towards migrants.
Shouting “no to racism,” “solidarity with migrants” and “no to police crackdown,” protestors marched through central Tunis as part of the demonstration staged by Tunisia’s journalists union and several nongovernmental organizations.
Several social media users likened Saied’s comment to the notion of “the great replacement”, a conspiracy theory that white people in Europe are being usurped by foreigners, mainly from Africa and the Middle East.
“Kais Saied is repeating racist replacement-type theories that many Tunisians have been saying for a long time,” said Shreya Parikh, a researcher on black and Arab identity.
President Kais Saied said last week that “urgent measures” were needed to address the entry of irregular immigrants from sub-Saharan countries, “with their lot of violence, crimes and unacceptable practices.”
The spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights, Romdhane Ben Amor, deplored an increasing number of racist assaults against sub-Saharan migrants following Saied’s remarks.
“We noted attempts to drive some migrants out of their homes,” he told The Associated Press. “Others are being prevented from taking public transportation.”
A statement by the African Union reminded countries, especially its member states, ”to honor their obligations under international law and relevant 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”. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image: Tunisian President Saied complained that sub-Saharan migrants arriving in Tunisia were changing the complexion of the North African country from “Arab” to Black. Image shows Arabs leaving mosque in Tunis c. 1899. Wikimedia Commons.
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