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    NewsAfricaTunisian coast guards implicated in the sinking of sub-Saharan migrants

    Tunisian coast guards implicated in the sinking of sub-Saharan migrants

    More and more testimonies report the use of violent practices by the Tunisian coast guards targeting migrants who seek to board boats to leave Tunisia, where the climate of racism against sub-Saharan Africans pushes many exiles to flee the country.

    Confiscated engines, canoes left adrift, dangerous maneuvers causing panic on board… Testimonies reporting violent practices by the Tunisian coast guards against migrants trying to reach Europe on makeshift boats have multiplied since the virulent speech delivered by President Kaïs Saïed, in February, targeting these sub-Saharan exiles.

    In several cases, recently reported by the InfoMigrants website [media auquel participe France 24]the shipwrecks resulting from this violence have caused the death of several migrants, including young children, embarked on these makeshift canoes heading for the European coasts.

    On June 22, a boat of 97 people capsized off Sfax, in central-eastern Tunisia. Only about twenty migrants were rescued. According to one of the few survivors, whose story InfoMigrants collected from the Cameroonian Association of the Diaspora in Tunisia (Acadit), the Tunisian coastguards launched “tear gas” into the boat causing a panic. on board and the sinking of the canoe.

    “Coastguards circled around the boat to make waves”

    This Cameroonian mother lost her 5-year-old son years during this tragedy. She says that “the coastguards circled around the boat to make waves. And then they threw tear gas several times into the boat. There was a movement of panic and the boat turned over “. Aboard the same boat with her two twins, another woman reported the death of one of her children in the sinking.

    “When they [les garde-frontières] agitate the water, people panic and the boat turns over. They can help some people, but they can’t get everyone out,” Kalilou, an Ivorian migrant, told InfoMigrants in April.

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    Other exiles in contact with this specialized editorial staff ensure that the authorities sometimes steal the engines of the canoes, letting them drift in the open sea. A particularly dangerous method of interception, already used by the Libyan coastguards off their coasts to stop the migration route.

    Contacted by France 24 and InfoMigrants, the maritime guards of Sfax did not wish to answer the questions of our journalists.

    Financial aid from France and the EU

    The testimonies of these abuses off the coast of Tunisia confirm the alerts launched by NGOs and humanitarian associations as early as December.

    About fifty of them had then denounced in a forum the violence of the Tunisian coastguards during the interceptions in the Mediterranean, evoking “batons, shots in the air or in the direction of the engine, knife attacks, dangerous maneuvers for trying to sink the boats, asking for money in exchange for a rescue…”

    According to these NGOs, “these attacks have accelerated in recent months [de 2022]targeting both migrants, whether Tunisian or foreign”.


    In this forum, these organizations also declared that they did not consider Tunisia as a safe landing place for exiles rescued in the Mediterranean and asked the European Union “to withdraw the agreements” made with the Tunisian authorities in the fight against immigration. clandestine.

    Since then, in mid-June, an envelope of 105 million euros has been promised by the European Commission to support Tunisia in the fight “against irregular immigration”. This is in addition to the granting by France of nearly 26 million euros, announced with great fanfare by the Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, in Tunis on June 19.

    Kaïs Saïed reiterates his anti-migrant remarks

    Tunisia is facing a spectacular increase in boat departures from its coasts to Europe. Crossings of the central Mediterranean have increased by almost 300% between January and May 2023, according to the European border surveillance agency Frontex. The highest figures ever recorded since 2019.

    “The vast majority of departures from the African coast since the beginning of 2023 are linked to the situation in Tunisia”, explains to France 24 Matthieu Tardis, co-director of the specialized research center Synergies migrations. “The rise of anti-black racism against sub-Saharan migrants, supported by the speech of President Kaïs Saïed and followed by violence against migrants present in the country, hastened their departure for Europe”.

    Read also“A climate of fear”: in Tunisia, sub-Saharan migrants stigmatized and attacked

    “Since November, we have noticed more arrivals of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa than Tunisians [par la route tunisienne]”, “safer than the Libyan road because it is shorter”, also observes a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IMO), Flavio Di Giacomo to AFP. A phenomenon due, according to him, “to strong discrimination that migrants from sub-Saharan Africa suffer in Tunisia, that they therefore flee”.

    A phenomenon that should not work out given the latest outings of the Tunisian president. Kaïs Saïed reiterated on Monday his opposition to the presence of sub-Saharan migrants, going so far as to speak this time of migrants who “terrorize” Tunisian citizens. In February, he said that the presence of “hordes” of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa was a source of “violence and crime” in his country.

    A speech that comes the day after demonstrations hostile to migrants in Sfax, one of the main departure cities for illegal crossings to Europe, and while the testimonies of assaults on sub-Saharan migrants are increasing.

    Shipwrecks on the rise and increasingly fragile boats

    At the same time, the use of less expensive but much more fragile boats has made crossings of the Mediterranean more dangerous. Traffickers now employ “metal skiffs built in less than a day on beaches for around 1 000 euros per unit”, further reveals InfoMigrants.


    These badly welded boats, particularly borrowed from Tunisia, are even more unstable than long wooden boats or rubber dinghies, already very dangerous in the face of Mediterranean waves. Only 20 centimeters “separate the migrants from the water. At the first wave that arrives on the boat, it sinks immediately”, warns Jean Janssen, of the Mediterranean rescue NGO ResQship.

    These boats also contribute both to the sharp increase in departures and to the increase in shipwrecks. For the tragic shipwreck of June 22, InfoMigrants estimates the death toll at around seventy. On June 9, the bodies of nine sub-Saharan Africans who left the town of Teboulba were recovered in the Mediterranean. Before that, more than 70 migrants perished near the Tunisian coast after a series of shipwrecks in April.

    The Tunisian National Guard claims to have rescued or intercepted 14,406 people, including 13,138 from sub-Saharan Africa in the first three months of 2023.



    Source: France 24

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