«Tunisia is not a safe country for us»

Refugees in Tunisia Press Release - World Refugee Day

Tunisi, 20 giugno. Conferenza stampa dei rifugiati

Tunis, 20/06/2022On World Refugee Day, we the asylum seekers and refugees in Tunisia want to send a message to the world: Tunisia is not a safe country for us. We need evacuation and resettlement to a safe country. 

Many of us came from Libya because of the war in 2019. We entered Tunisia either by land across a heavily militarized border, or by sea, following interceptions by the Tunisian coast guard. 

We are not welcome here, we cannot integrate into society and find work, even after years. The living conditions here are not decent. 

In February 2022, UNHCR forced us to leave our apartments, ensuring us only 750 dinars for the next 3 months, which is not enough for living in Tunisia. 

We started a sit-in on 9th February 2022 in front of UNHCR’s southern office in Zarzis. The 15th of April, after the police evicted the protest in coordination with UNHCR, the sit-in moved in front of the central office of UNHCR Tunisia in Rue du Lac 1 Biwa, Tunis.

During the months of demonstrations we became 300, we talked to journalists, we did press conferences to make public the suffering we are enduring but this has so far not led to tangible results.

Many have taken the sea to Europe and several have died at sea, others have died after returning to Libya. Those who have stayed here have encountered various hardships: discrimination, exploitation, homelessness. 

UNHCR’s local partners do not allow us to have a decent life. Responsibility for refugees in Tunisia is divided into a complex bureaucratic mechanism that disperses efforts and does not allow us to have complete protection. 

The refugee card issued by the asylum procedure does not give the effective right to anything, neither education, nor public health, regular work or even legal mobility inside Tunisia.

As a temporary solution, many people have been relocated to shelters in Er-Roued, 20km from Tunis, others are still on the street in front of UNHCR headquarters. But many other refugees in Tunisia live in a difficult situation: that is why we speak out for all these people. 

UNHCR has promised accelerated procedures for examining our asylum applications, but we have no confidence in the institution and the solutions previously proposed have been disregarded. The dossiers will be reopened individually and not collectively as our movement had demanded, aspiring for evacuation in the first place, since Tunisia – we repeat it – is not a safe country. 

Many of us will try to return to Libya, or take to the sea, or try to move to Algeria, because there is no future here. We thought we would find protection in Tunisia: we come from difficult backgrounds, from wars like in Sudan, Eritrea, etc.; we passed through Libya where conditions for refugees were unlivable. 

Nevertheless, even here we live in a situation where our lives are in danger: one of our comrades in the sit-in, Mohamed Faraj Momin, died a fortnight ago after being run over while demonstrating in the street for his rights. There has also been resistance to accessing the death and medical records of our friend: the country is not safe; it does not welcome us either alive or after death. 

For these reasons we are asking for evacuation and relocation: even though many of us have been moved to UNHCR shelters, our future here is uncertain. We could be expelled from the shelters as it has happened in the past. We are therefore trying to spread the word of our demands outside Tunisia to have a hope of being heard.

In Tunis, on the morning of Saturday, June 18th, police evicted in coordination with the UN Agency what remained of our sit-in in Rue du Lac (Tunis) in front of UNHCR headquarters. 

The eviction involved all the people present, many of whom are families with young children. Our tents, mattresses and other few belongings were taken away. Even kids’ toys. Numerous abuses by the Tunisian police reportedly took place, even with the use of physical violence. 

On the same day UNHCR announced it was going to complete the relocation of the Zarzis group. For those left on the street, no solution was planned. What we witnessed was a random selection among protesters that would go to the shelters and protesters that would simply be left on the streets, with no consideration for their right to asylum protesting. Today’s eviction seems to be intended to eliminate the problem in the eyes of the public by simply making the remaining people disappear in front of the UN agency’s offices. 

Thus, with the eviction, an attempt is being made to finally disaggregate our movement that has been calling for months for a collective evacuation and recognition of Tunisia as an unsafe country for refugees. We need international attention more than ever. Tunisia’s policy of securitized and violent containment of legitimate protests is further putting our lives at risk.

The demands are not changing. Tunisia is not a safe country for us, people in need of international protection. Refugees and asylum seekers in Tunisia need resettlement to a safe third country. 

The protests restarted today, the 20th of June 2022, again in front of the UNHCR central office in Tunis. On this important day we renovate our revendation: we ask for real international protection. There is only one solution: evacuation from Tunisia.

We say it clearly: Tunisia is considered as a democratic State, but we the refugees have no rights. We know the reality: Tunisia is not a safe country. We need immediate evacuation to a safe country.

Saad Eddin Ismail – a refugee in Tunisia part of the movement “Evacuation from Tunisia”

A fragment of our last public event online: