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Study puts in question Tunisia status as ‘safe country’

A study by three universities in Tunisia, Italy and France on the ‘outsourcing’ of EU borders to Tunisia has raised questions about Tunisia’s status as a ‘safe country’.

The study noted that Tunisia “is stopping about 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers from leaving the country”.

The study, entitled “Waiting in the middle ground: Blocking the movement of illegalized people on the move in Tunisia, an unsafe country” was by Riccardo Biggi, Valentina Lomaglio and Luca Ramello.

It was made possible through the support of the University of Sousse, the University of Ca’ Foscari of Venice and the Paul Valery University of Montpellier.

It is available in English on the website of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES).

The study claims that those stuck in Tunisia are deprived of their basic human rights.

It attempted to answer the question as to whether Tunisia can be considered a safe country through analysis of accounts given and claims by about 300 asylum seekers and refugees mainly from sub-Saharan Africa that between February and July 2022 protested in front of the offices of the Tunis UNHCR branch.

After beginning their protest in the southern city of Zarzis, they went to Tunis and staged a sit-in in front of the UNHCR office, demanding to be evacuated from Tunisia and relocated to third countries.

The protestors demonstrated against the handling of migration flows in Tunisia and especially against the management by the UN agency, which they claimed denies freedom of movement and contributes to their socio-economic marginalisation.

The study conducted by the three universities highlights the political character of some institutes seemingly neutral about international law, both as concerns the categorisation of “economic migrants”, “refugees”, “vulnerability”, and “safe country”, and as concerns legislation concerning access to visas and passport use.

The study claims that they are used for the protection of the borders of EU states with serious repercussions on those trying to reach the EU.

The visa and EU border system alongside the international governance of migration is described as a system founded on institutional racism and functioning on the logic of exploitation of people, with the rendering of their movement illegal for political ends.

The authors state that, in contrast with what has been said by UNHCR, the decision to offer new dormitories and restoring assistance simply postponed the search for a lasting solution for the protestors’ conditions, while it is unrealistic for almost all of them to continue considering Tunisia as a ‘safe country’.

The study noted that making emigration from Tunisia illegal – with the Tunisian government, the UNHCR, and the EU all working together – does not reduce the motivation to reach the opposite shores of the Mediterranean in more dangerous but the only realistically possible ways, even at the cost of possibly ending up back in the so-called “Libyan hell”.

Source : ANSA Med