Tunisians protest against rising number of migrants stranded en route to Europe

Anti-migrant anger is mounting in impoverished towns like Jebeniana along the Tunisian coastline that have emerged as a launchpad for thousands of people hoping to reach Europe by boat.

Protesters demanded the government act to assist agricultural communities dealing with thousands of migrants living in makeshift camps among their olive groves.

”You brought them here and it’s your responsibility to send them back to their home countries,” Moamen Salemi from nearby El Amra said at the protest. ”There is a shortage of food throughout the city of El Amra, including sugar, flour, bread and many other items.”

Tunisians participate in a protest against the presence of sub-Saharan migrants stranded in olive-growing towns on the Tunisian coastline, Jebeniana, Saturday, May 18, 2024.

Tunisia is a key transit point for migrants from Syria, Bangladesh and sub-Saharan African nations.

The police force has been stepped up in the two towns where some 83,000 Tunisian residents live.

The protesters say they have borne the cost of Tunisia’s efforts to prevent migrants from reaching the European Union, less than a year after the country brokered an anti-migration pact with the bloc to improve sea border patrols and receive more than one billion euros in aid.

The Tunisian Coast Guard has said it has prevented more than 21,000 migration attempts by land or sea this year. Fewer than 8,000 successfully travelled by boat from Tunisia to Italy in the first four months of 2024, a threefold decrease from 2023, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

FILE – Migrants hold placards reading ‘Black Lives Matter’, left, in French, during a gathering in Sfax, Tunisia’s eastern coast, on July 7, 2023.

Anti-migrant protests erupted in the city of Sfax last year, months after Tunisian President Kais Saied called for measures to address violence and crime he said were caused by illegal immigration. But they are a new development in Jebeniana and El Amra, where a similar protest took place earlier this month.

Encampments sprung up and expanded on the outskirts of the two towns after local authorities started increasingly clearing them from Sfax in 2023.

The International Organisation for Migration’s Tunisia office has said roughly 7,000 migrants are living near Jebeniana and El Amra, though residents estimate the number could be much higher.

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