Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur has spoken out against discrimination, a week after President Kais Saied said undocumented immigration from sub-Saharan African countries was aimed at changing the country’s demographic composition.
Anti-immigrant measures announced by Saied have led to mass evictions and caused panic among sub-Saharan people. Hundreds of Tunisians have taken to the streets to denounce his “racist comments and hate speech” against refugees and express solidarity with undocumented immigrants.
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“Today is #ZeroDiscriminationDay. As a proud Tunisian, Arab and African woman I celebrate the right of everyone to live with dignity,” Jabeur tweeted on Wednesday.
She also shared a picture of a Tunisian stamp from 1961, celebrating Africa Day.
— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) March 1, 2023
Saied last week accused undocumented immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa of bringing a wave of “violence and crime” to the North African country and representing a “criminal plot” to change its demographic makeup.
He alleged that unnamed parties had settled sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia over the past decade in return for money, according to comments published by the presidency online.
Human rights groups have criticised his comments as “racist” and accused him of sparking violence against undocumented immigrants while the African Union condemned Tunisia and urged it to avoid “racialised hate speech”.
Hundreds of West Africans, evicted in recent days by landlords fearing heavy fines for housing undocumented immigrants, have flocked to their embassies in Tunis to seek repatriation.
« Je suis africain, non pas parce que je suis né en Afrique, mais parce que l'Afrique est née en moi. » pic.twitter.com/5bdPL3VfV3
— Radhi Jaidi (@RadhijaidiOff) February 26, 2023
Translation: “I’m African, not just because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me.”
Another Tunisian sports figure, Radhi Jaidi – a member of the Black community, which makes up about a tenth of the country’s 12 million people – also expressed solidarity with the immigrants over the weekend.
“I’m African, not just because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me,” he said in an online post.
According to figures from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, about 21,000 undocumented immigrants from other parts of Africa live in Tunisia.
That figure includes foreign university students and workers who complain they are unable to obtain the paperwork they need to remain in Tunisia because of its archaic bureaucracy.
Tunisia is a key departure point for refugees trying to reach Europe on what the United Nations says is the world’s deadliest migration route.
Many people from Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea and the Ivory Coast work in poorly paid, informal jobs to get by and save up for attempts to reach Italy.
The country lies about 130km (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa at its closest point.