Congolese-French singer and rapper Gims has announced he will not travel to Tunisia, where he was due to perform at a concert next month, in protest against the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in the North African country.
“Children, women and men expelled from Tunisia to Libya live in inhuman conditions. I cannot maintain my visit to Tunisia, scheduled for August 11th,” the singer wrote on Instagram on Sunday.
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Tensions between Tunisians and asylum seekers have soared since February when President Kais Saied made a speech in which he claimed that migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia threatened to change the country’s demographic makeup.
Hundreds of migrants have since been forced from their homes in the coastal city of Sfax, where clashes erupted earlier this month.
Authorities have loaded refugees and asylum seekers living rough in Tunisian cities onto buses and left them stranded in remote desert areas near Algeria and Libya, prompting the United Nations to warn of an “unfolding tragedy”.
“They are stuck in the desert, facing extreme heat, and without access to shelter, food or water. There is an urgent need to provide critical, life-saving humanitarian assistance while urgent, humane solutions are found,” the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a joint statement on Thursday.
Human Rights Watch said up to 1,200 Africans were “forcibly transferred” to the border regions or pushed across the border.
Pictures of asylum seekers stranded with no access to food or water in the midst of a heatwave that registered peaks of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) have been widely shared on social media.
Gims, who arrived in France as a two-year-old in 1988 and rose to fame as one of the country’s most popular artists, expressed his shock at the situation.
“I don’t know where the solutions are. But this extreme distress is unbearable,” the singer wrote on Instagram.
In his memoir Vise le Soleil (Aim for the Sun), the artist told the story of how he spent his childhood years living in squatters’ homes and social service facilities after his parents arrived in France.
Gims, who has yet to obtain French citizenship, has been vocal about racism, poverty and other social issues in the banlieues, or suburbs, where France’s minorities experience marginalisation.
Tunisia has become a major gateway for irregular migrants and asylum seekers attempting perilous sea voyages – often in rickety boats – in the hopes of a better life in Europe.
More than 900 migrants have drowned off Tunisia’s coast so far this year, the government said on Thursday.
The Italian government says that more than 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to arrive on its shores so far this year, mostly from Tunisia and war-scarred Libya.