Tunisian police tear gas people protesting migrant deaths at Francophonie summit venue

Tunisian police tear gas people protesting migrant deaths at Francophonie summit venue
2 min read
18 November, 2022
Tunisian police have fired tear gas at people protesting the deaths of their relatives in migrant shipwrecks in the run-up to the Francophonie summit in Djerba.
Angry relatives of migrants confronted security forces at the Francophonie summit venue [Getty]

Tunisian police fired teargas on Friday to disperse protesters in the town of Zarzis who were trying to reach the island of Djerba, where leaders of French-speaking countries are to hold a summit this weekend, witnesses said.

Protests have continued in Zarzis, which is connected to Djerba by a long bridge, for weeks over the Tunisian state's response to the death of local people in migrant shipwrecks.

Around 30 of the protesters were taken to hospital, due to suffocation from tear gas inhalation.

On 21 September, a boat carrying 18 young men from the town sank in the Mediterranean. The bodies of nine of the have yet to be found.

Tunisian President Kais Saied will welcome French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders in Djerba on Saturday and Sunday after their foreign ministers meet on the island later on Friday in the showpiece event of the Francophonie group.

"We wanted to protest and make our voices heard in Djerba, but the authorities' response was with force and we were supressed," said Salim Zuraidat, one of the protesters.

Zuraidat is among a group of relatives of the young men from the Zarzis area who drowned weeks ago.

Hundreds of migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe have died in shipwrecks.

Relatives of the shipwreck victims started protesting in Zarzis over what they saw as a dismissive government approach to the disaster including an initial failure to send boats out to look for bodies and a failure to identify those bodies that were found before burial.

A spokesperson for Tunisia's Interior Ministry said it had no details or immediate comment on Friday's protest or the police response to it.

(Reuters and The New Arab Staff)