Geneva - Tunisian authorities must act immediately to put an end to the violence that has erupted between locals and migrants in the southern city of Sfax, said Euro-Med Monitor in a statement.
The violence that broke out in Sfax over the last two days coincides with an increased number of migrants in the city, which has become a major starting point for migrants heading to Europe. Euro-Med Monitor emphasised that controlling violence between Tunisians and migrants should not be limited to improving field conditions but should also address the underlying causes of tension, for example by humanely managing migrant flows and combating the country’s growing anti-migrant sentiment.
Expressing extreme concern over the ongoing violence between migrants and locals in multiple Sfax neighbourhoods, Euro-Med Monitor’s statement noted that a local man was killed and dozens of people on both sides suffered injuries, fractures, and bruises as a result of clashes involving sharp objects, hands, and stones. The organisation documented several incidents in which locals held dozens of migrants in inhumane conditions in Sfax neighbourhoods and subjected them to degrading practices which amount to physical and psychological abuse.
According to testimonies reviewed by Euro-Med Monitor, Tunisian man Nizar Amri was killed on Monday night (3 July) in the Sfax Governorate. Amri was killed on Rue de Mahdia road, 10 kilometres within the town of Sakiet Eddaïer, during clashes with migrants from sub-Saharan African countries. Tunisian authorities consequently apprehended three migrants suspected of being involved in the incident. Authorities also detained dozens of migrants in Sfax on charges of entering and remaining in the country illegally, without documentation; however, none of the locals who attacked migrants in the city were reportedly detained.
There has been a surge in racially motivated hate speech directed at migrants in Tunisia, particularly on social media platforms, with several calls for attacks on their gatherings in Sfax being widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter. The calls have included racial slurs and incited the assault and deportation of migrants. Part of the Sfax population blames migrants for increasing pressure on the city’s facilities and claims their involvement in “immoral” acts and crimes such as theft. Locals also accuse them of overconsuming public services like housing, health care, education, and transportation, and hundreds gathered last month to express opposition to migrants’ presence in the city and demand their expulsion.
Euro-Med Monitor criticised the slow and indecisive official response to the events in Sfax, calling it inadequate in relation to the significant level of violence. Security forces were slow to intervene in the clashes between migrants and locals, and have thus far failed to put an end to the escalating violence in the city. “Continued clashes between locals and migrants in Sfax without prompt and decisive intervention portend dire consequences and may exacerbate the city’s already existing tension,” said Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operating Officer Anas Jerjawi.
“Keeping migrants in direct conflict with locals encourages more hate crimes, especially given the widespread belief that migrants are to blame for the spread of crime and the lack of Tunisians’ ability to lead normal lives,” Jerjawi added.
Tunisian authorities must assume their responsibilities in stopping all forms of violence between migrants and locals in Sfax and launch a serious and independent investigation into the clashes to identify and detain the perpetrators, including those who killed Tunisian Nizar Amri, as well as the locals who violently assaulted numerous migrants and undermined their human dignity. Euro-Med Monitor urges the authorities to develop plans to ethically manage migration flows, particularly within Sfax, ensure migrants’ rights are upheld under relevant international laws, and protect migrants from acts of violence that may befall them given their vulnerable status.