Tunisia's national guards confirm video of helicopters flying low 'to disperse migrants and smugglers'

Tunisia's national guards confirm video of helicopters flying low 'to disperse migrants and smugglers'
3 min read
08 September, 2023
A video of a Tunisian national guard helicopter manoeuvring at a very low altitude near Sub-Saharan migrants in the Tunisian desert has been shared widely on social media, adding to the controversy around Tunisia's escalating anti-migration policy. 
The spokesperson of Tunisia's guards argued that the manoeuvres targeted mainly Tunisian smugglers with a criminal record who were reported to be in the area. [Getty]

Tunisian guards have confirmed that they were manoeuvring their helicopters at a low altitude near Sub-Saharan migrants in the Tunisian desert, citing "attempted attacks on authorities."

"After all these aggressions, do you want us to welcome them with flowers," said Houssemeddine Jebabli, Tunisia's National Guard spokesperson, in an interview with Tunisian Radio Diwan on Wednesday, 6 September.

A video allegedly showing Tunisian National Guard helicopters flying at a very low altitude near Sub-Saharan migrants in the Tunisian desert has been shared widely on social media, adding to the controversy around Tunisia's escalating anti-migration policy. 

Over the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, the video shared shows tens of migrants shouting in French "liberty" as they ran from the helicopters into the desert between Sfax and Mahdia. 

Since a migration crisis erupted in Tunisia on 3 July, several Sub-Saharan migrants have flown the cities to the desert and olive domains away from deportation buses and rising racist attacks.

On Wednesday, 6 September, National Guard spokesperson Houssemeddine Jebabli confirmed the video's veracity, which was filmed three weeks ago, according to the official.

Jebabli argued that these manoeuvres targeted mainly Tunisian smugglers with a criminal record who were reported to be in the area.

He also claimed that some "individuals" tried to set Guards National inside a vehicle on fire, which prompted the pilot to act to disperse the crowd.

"Tunisian authorities have embarked during the last period on tracking down illegal migrants and smugglers, stopping an average of 18 attempts to cross the land border daily," added the Tunisian official.

Rising attacks against migrants in Tunisia

In February, President Saied accused "hordes" of migrants from sub-Saharan African countries of a "plot" to change the country's demographic makeup, echoing the ideas of the far-right "Grand Remplacement theory."

The anti-black migrants' racism arose in the country since then, leading to the death of a Tunisian man in clashes with migrants in July.

Since then, Tunisia has reportedly deported over 1000 black migrants to buffer military zone areas with Libya and Algeria, leaving them to fund themselves in the scorching Sahara. 

After dozens of fatalities, Tripoli and Tunis decided on 10 August to share responsibility for providing shelter for the migrants. Hundreds of migrants were consequently sent back to the infamous Libyan detention centres, known for their terrible conditions and incidents of violence and a place many of these migrants had escaped from already.

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Last month, shocking footage emerged of a woman lying dead on the floor of a migration detention centre in Libya. Former detainees say the scene is a typical daily reality there.

Tunisia, which has surpassed Libya as the principal departure hub for people trying to reach Europe, signed with the EU in July a €1bn deal to help stem irregular migration.

The MoU's text did not guarantee rights or protection for the Sub-Saharan migrants living in Tunisia who have been pledging for the West's help since Kais Saied's infamous "Grand Remplacement" speech. The EU has so far remained silent on Tunisia's treatment of Sub-Saharan migrants.