Protesters in Tunisia call for migrants to be returned to home countries

Hundreds of Tunisians marched through the streets of Jebeniana to protest the presence of sub-Saharan migrants who have found themselves stranded as the country ramps up border patrol efforts.

Anti-migrant anger is mounting in impoverished towns like Jebeniana along the Tunisian coastline that have emerged as a launchpad for thousands of people hoping to reach Europe by boat.

Chanting slogans to oppose settling migrants in Tunisia, protesters demanded the government act to assist agricultural communities dealing with thousands of migrants living in tarpaulin encampments among their olive groves.

“You brought them here and it’s your responsibility to send them back to their home countries,” Moamen Salemi, a 63-year old pensioner from nearby El Amra, said at the protest.

“There is a shortage of food throughout the city of El Amra, including sugar, flour, bread and many other items.”

A final stop for many who dream of a better life in Europe, Jebeniana and El Amra reflect the compounding problems facing Tunisia, a key transit point for migrants from Syria, Bangladesh and a variety of sub-Saharan African nations.

Law enforcement has expanded its presence in the two agricultural towns, where roughly 83,000 Tunisians live among a growing number of migrants from around the world.

Tunisia Mediterranean Migration
Protesters called for migrants to be returned home (Houssem Zouari/AP)

The Tunisian Coast Guard has said it has prevented more than 21,000 migration attempts by land or sea this year.

Fewer than 8,000 successfully travelled by boat from Tunisia to Italy in the first four months of 2024, a threefold decrease from 2023, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

More Tunisians have travelled by makeshift boat to Italy this year than migrants from sub-Saharan African countries.

Anti-migrant protests erupted in the city of Sfax last year, months after Tunisian President Kais Saied called for measures to address violence and crime he said were caused by illegal immigration.

But they are a new development in Jebeniana and El Amra, where a similar protest took place earlier this month.

Encampments sprung up and expanded on the outskirts of the two towns after local authorities started increasingly clearing them from Sfax last year.

The International Organisation for Migration’s Tunisia office has said roughly 7,000 migrants are living near Jebeniana and El Amra, though residents estimate the number could be much higher.

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