On July 16th 2023, a new agreement focusing on the fight against "irregular migration" was signed between Tunisia and the European Union in Tunis amidst mass deportations, human rights violations and deaths of migrants in the desert.
Agreement between Tunisia and EU representatives, July 16th 2023 People stranded after deportation, Tunisian-Libyan border
The Tunisian President Kais Saed, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of the far-right "Fratelli d'Italia" party took part in the signing ceremony.
A week later, on July 23rd 2023, representatives of 21 states, the EU, the IMF, the World Bank and the European Development Bank met in Rome at the invitation of the Italian government for a "conference on development and migration". The stated aim was to extend the agreement signed between the EU and Tunisia to other countries.
"Conference on Development and Migration", Rome, July 23rd 2023
We wish to express our deepest concern about the signing of such an agreement at a time when Tunisia is experiencing a wave of racist violence against people from Subsaharan contries, further incited by the President’s hate speeches, paired with serious human rights violations, some of them fatal, commited by the Tunisian state's security forces against migrants and refugees:
- Since the end of June 2023, there have been numerous racist attacks against people from subsaharan Africa in the harbour city of Sfax and in other parts of Tunisia. The attacked people tell about brutal beatings, attacks with stones and of groups of the agressors violently entering the homes of migrants, as well as the rape of women and girls. There are even reports of killings, including a man who was killed by being thrown from a 2nd floor balcony. Hundreds of people fled the zones of attacks and were arrested by the police in order to deport them.
- Since the end of June 2023, more than 1000 people, according to a Tunisian parliamentary deputy 1200 people between June 28th and July 6th, were deported to the desert at the border of Algeria and Libya, including a beach in the no-mans land on the Tunisian-Libyan border. Among those who got deported, there are pregnant women, children and babies. The group was composed of people of very different conditions of residence: Legal residents of Tunisia, undocumented people, as well as asylum seekers and refugees. Nevertheless, they all share a common vulnerability as migrants trapped in a critical border situation.
- Numerous persons have reported, as well as photographed and filmed, the Tunisian Security Forces beating them up, even using iron batons. That they were abandoned in the desert without water and food. Even that humanitarian helpers were prevented from approaching them to give them water and food. That in order to stop them, Tunisian Forces even fired their rifles behind them, while Libyan forces used tear gas to stop them from entering and to push them back to Tunisia.
- According to several testimonies, some people died already in the desert, caused by a lack of water, and some dead bodies have already been found. Disturbing images of people dying or already deceased in the border region were shared on several occasions. Over the past days many deported people were out of strength and in serious danger of death.
- In the end some of the deported people were rescued by Libyan Security Forces and taken to reception centres in Libya. Others were able to receive help from solidary persons of the Tunisian civil society or humanitarian organisations, including the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), Doctors of the Worls (MDM), the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH) and the Tunisian and Libyan Red Crescents. However, it is also reported that some of those who have managed to reach Libya have been locked up in closed centres. In addition, daily reports indicate that as of July 26th 2023, groups of people, including pregnant women and minors, are still isolated in the desert in various locations in the border areas. Some are trying to get back to the towns on foot. Some solidary people pick up deportees in their cars or search for them to rescue them. There are also reports of public transport refusing to carry people without a permit and of the Tunisian police harassing people on foot.
The situation in the border areas remains precarious, and every effort must be made as a matter of urgency to rescue all those who are still stranded and isolated, to prevent them from dying in the desert!
Deported persons stranded in the desert, border Tunisia - Libya, Deported persons walking in the desert
facing journalists of Al Jazeera and libyan soldiers, near Tunisia-Algeria border,
July 11th 2023. between July 5th and 7th, 2023
The shameful agreement between Tunisia and the European Union
By carrying out brutal deportations into the desert, the Tunisian state is creating a humanitarian crisis knowingly and deliberately, that puts hundreds if not thousands in imminent danger of death and has already caused the death of several people.
Representatives of the European Union have made a catastrophic declaration of abandonment of any human rights principles by rewarding these criminal acts of the Tunisian state with an agreement that promises additional hundreds of millions of Euros for border protection and the fight against so called "irregular migration".
This agreement contains the continuation of the brutal practices of the Tunisian state over the last days and weeks:
Apart from the inevitable declarations concerning the economy and trade, the transition to renewable energy and the creation of legal channels for migration, the memorandoum finally returns to the key issue for its authors: the fight against "irregular migration", which is, due to their conception, caused by "criminal networks". The text also underlines that Tunisia is not a "residence for irregular migrants", which can easily be seen as a paraphrase of the racist slogans of President Kais Saed.
The memorandum is fixated on the objective of the fight against "irregular migration", which is to be achieved by the strengthening of the management of the Tunisian borders and by the deportation of people, in an "irregular" situation in Tunisia, to their countries of origin. But it also includes the deportation of Tunisian citizens in an "irregular" situation in Europe to Tunisia. In this sense, the agreement is an attack on migrants from Subsaharan countries in Tunisia, as well as on Tunisian migrants in Europe.
For achieving these aims, the European partners have promised the Tunisian government large new payments for the equipment and armament of its security forces.
Conference on Development and Migration in Rome
All the North African countries - Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt - took part in the Rome conference on July 23rd. On the sub-Saharan side, Niger, Mauritania and Ethiopia. On the European side, the countries bordering the Mediterranean, namely Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece, and on the Middle East side, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Council Charles Michel, and the capital institutions IMF, World Bank and European Development Bank have also been present. Together, all these players are paving the way for the further externalisation and hence the brutalisation of the border regime, which does not punish states committing serious human rights violations and leaving people to die, but rewards them for such acts.
Solidary voices against the brutalised and murderous border regime
In contrast, renowned human rights organisations, including Humand Rights Watch (HRW), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), as well as a group of experts of the UN have strongly condemned the Tunisian government’s attacks on refugees and migrants and demand a halt to the mass deportations.
On July 20th 2023, a "Peoples’ Meeting for the Dignity of Migrants" was held in Tunis, where civil society associations from Tunisia, the Maghreb, West Africa and Europe came together to express and affirm their disagreement with the migration policies pursued by governments.
On July 23rd 2023, a Counter-Summit was held in Rome, with the participation of Refugees in Libya, among others, to denounce the objectives of the States' "Conference on Development and Migration".
We welcome any initiative against the inhumane and murderous practices of the Tunisian state and demand:
- No to the agreement between Tunisia and the European Union! No to the externalisation and brutalisation of the border regime!
- An immediate halt to mass deportations, to the hunt for and violence against migrants, to police harassments and to the racist demagogy in Tunisia!
- Immediate rescue and evacuation for the deported people at the borders and in the desert! No more deaths!
- And No to the deportation of Tunisian Nationals and other people from European countries to Tunisia!
Communiqué issued by the People's Meeting for the Dignity of Migrants – declaration of Tunis (French):
World Organisation Against Tortue (OMCT) (French):
Human Rights Watch (HRW): Tunisia: No Safe Haven for Black African Migrants, Refugees:
Group of experts of the UN: