Tunisia: Sub-Saharan students live in fear after Kais Saied's racist speech
After Tunisia's President Kais Saied made an "anti-migrant" and "racist" speech regarding migrants from African states, students from sub-Saharan African states living in Tunisia fear for their lives amid rising anti-black sentiments.
On Wednesday, the Association of African Students and Interns in Tunisia (AESAT), the largest official student association of sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia, urged its members not to go out except for emergencies and always carry their credential papers.
"The average Internet user does not distinguish between documented African students and undocumented migrants; this translates on the ground into intimidation and aggression," read the French press release published by AESAT on Wednesday.
The North African country was scandaled Tuesday after Saied declared migrants' presence in Tunisia was "a criminal project" seeking to erase "Tunisia's Arab and Islamic identity."
Saied stressed that the state will step up security operations against "illegal" migrants living in Tunisia.
Over the past few days, several students from Sub-Saharan countries were arrested despite their legal situation, according to AESAT.
#Tunisia’s largest official Sub-Saharan Africans’ student association is asking students not to go out except for emergency, with their residence cards . 🚨COMMUNIQUÉ🚨— Huda Mzioudet هدى مزيودات (@HudaMzioudet) February 22, 2023
Restez chez vous et ne sortez qu’en cas d’urgence avec tout vos documents. Les détails plus bas 👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/WeFjSODuuv
"Although they were eventually released, one of them spent six days in detention, half of which were without food. Therefore, it is not surprising that students do not dare to file a complaint during attacks for fear of being victims of these unjustified arrests," AESAT noted in the press release.
Racism is not new in Tunisian society. Last year, a BBC Arabic survey found that 80% of people in Tunisia believe that racial discrimination is a prevailing feature of life in the country.
However, Tunisian activists say Saied's racist comments will greenlight hate crimes against migrants and legitimise racist behaviours against black people in the country.
Over social media, several black Tunisians voiced fears of being targeted in public if mistaken for Sub-Saharan migrants.
"I was with my family, who came from other regions in Tunisia, in the cemetery to bury my uncle, and we are all dark-skinned. I was surprised when a police patrol stopped and asked me when they recognised me what all those black people doing there and if they are causing any trouble," wrote a Facebook user, who said he is still shocked that his family experienced racist profiling in their own country.
The black community in Tunsia represents between 10 and 15 per cent of the total population, with most residing in the country's south.
The community remain almost wholly absent from public life and employment, including government positions and other senior roles.