Black students were also targeted for expulsions, group says

by MMC
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Sub-Saharan university students have recently been subject to mass border expulsions by Tunisian security forces. Meanwhile, universities in the North African country have noticed a marked drop in the number of black African students enrolled, humanitarians say.

Saïd Abdallah, president of the Tunisian humanitarian association Children of the Moonconfirmed that his organization helped the Tunisian Red Crescent recover at least three university students of sub-Saharan nationality in the difficult border area between Tunisia and Libya.

This follows international criticism of Tunisian security forces’ mass expulsions of sub-Saharan Africans across the border into Libya in July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. reported on its website.

Universities have already seen the impact of waves of racial violence which have increased in Tunisia this year. Security personnel would also target students already enrolled. A spokesperson for the Tunisian Association of Sub-Saharan Students (Association of African Students and Interns in TunisiaAESAT) said that when parents and students contact them to inquire about opportunities to study in Tunisia, “we can only tell the truth…Tunisia is not safe for black people.”

Police rounded up at least 2,000 sub-Saharans and expelled them across the Tunisian border to a military buffer zone between Tunisians and Libyans controlled by Tunisian security and military forces. Children of the Moon said.

Phones confiscated, broken

HRW sounded the alarm on July 2 after learning that a group of 48 people were being deported across the Tunisian border to Ras Jedir on the Mediterranean coast to Libya. Most of those deported told HRW activists that their phones had been confiscated and broken by police, but some managed to hide their devices, allowing them to communicate with the HRW reporter and film videos that circulated on social networks and news media.

An expelled migrant called Israel told News from the academic world: “We have no water and have to drink from the sea.” He also said that among those expelled were university students and refugees.

Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at HRW, said the situation was urgent “because not only were members of the group allegedly mistreated and beaten during the process of arrest, detention and deportation , but they were also dropped off in an extremely dangerous area.” . On July 13, 2023, the U.S. Department of State issued a warning against any travel to, among others, the Ras Jedir region, due to terrorism.

At the time, international humanitarian organizations were prohibited from accessing the area to offer aid and support to the sick, pregnant women and children. Tunisian President Kais Saied decreed that only the Tunisian Red Crescent could take care of expelled Africans, bringing some back to Tunisia.

An agreement was then reached with the internationally recognized Libyan government, based in Tripoli and which controls this border area, on sharing responsibility for the expelled Africans. France 24 reported on August 10, 2023.

Students in “terrible state”

Abdullah said News from the academic world that the association supported sub-Saharan Africans rescued from the border area by the Red Crescent and confirmed that among those expelled were university students from Tunis.

“There were three university students; they were very sick and in a terrible state. They were treated in hospital and, once recovered, the International Organization for Migration (UN) took charge of them and sent them back to Tunis. The whereabouts of the students could not be confirmed.

An expert on Libyan politics and diplomacy who requested anonymity said News from the academic world that Libyan authorities had complained about the mass expulsions, which led to a dialogue between the Tunisian government and the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli over the expulsions, which “for the moment, (have) slowed down.”

Harassment of black students from sub-Saharan Africa increased following Saied’s “great replacement speech” in February 2023, in which he spoke of “hordes of migrants transforming the demographics of Tunisia from an Arab culture to an “African” culture.

Incidents of harassment, violence, arrest and imprisonment of black African students by Tunisian citizens and the police have since been documented by AESAT and the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social RightsFTDES).

Black students denied their licenses

Former political prisoner, sociologist and journalist Chaima Issa, a dynamic member of the National Salvation Front opposition movement, said: News from the academic world that, when she was first arrested in February and detained at the Bouchoucha detention center in Tunis, “I was held in a room with many sub-Saharan women. Six of them were university students. They were so distressed and scared, not knowing what was going to happen to them.

Issa was released in July. The AESAT spokesperson confirmed that in February and March, “around ten students” were detained in prison.

FTDES spokesperson Romdhane Ben Amor said black African students are still being denied essential papers, including the residence permit residence permit. “They suffer from racial targeting because they have a different skin color and do not speak Arabic. He added that, in general, the mistreatment of sub-Saharan populations is “increasing,” and that they are now being expelled directly across Tunisian borders, although such border expulsions have slowed down.

Ben Amor said Tunisian private universities reported 20 to 24 percent fewer new students from sub-Saharan Africa.

The AESAT spokesperson said that students who would have applied to Tunisian universities in the past “now prefer to go to Morocco, Turkey or Canada.” He added that after February, “students were scared and disgusted because what happened was inhumane. The hardest thing to understand is that there were no lawyers willing to protect them – neither during the period of arbitrary arrests, nor during the wave of violent attacks, expulsions and arrests by the police “.

Lotfi Cherif, president of the Ibn Khaldoun Private University (UIK) of Soukra, Tunis, said: News from the academic world that, even though the registration deadline is November 29, his institution is seeing a drop in the number of registrations.

“The original name of Tunisia was Ifriquia. We gave the name to Africa, we must stand in solidarity with the African continent,” he said.

Some measures in place

He explained that when the waves of violence began, UIK supported its students who chose to hide in their accommodation by providing them with food, and those who chose to return to their home countries by offering them online education.

Cherif said he was troubled to hear allegations that students had been expelled, even though he was unaware of those incidents. He said his university and other Tunisian higher education institutions provide affordable, high-quality higher education to students from countries including Mali, Cameroon and Niger.

He said UIK had put measures in place to help foreign students, including welcoming them at the airport and ensuring their papers were in order and they were transported to safe accommodation. Cherif said: “You need to make sure your students are safe and well taken care of. »

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