Nikki Yanga left the Democratic Republic of the Congo for Tunisia five months ago, hoping for a better life. She had heard that Tunisia was a beautiful and tolerant country, with the potential to work or use it as a springboard to travel to Europe. However, her dreams have been turned upside down due to a rising tide of racism in Tunisia that has emerged following anti-migrant statements issued by President Kais Saied. Yanga is now waiting to hear if she has been approved for voluntary repatriation, as her only hope is to make it back home.
Yanga and some friends journeyed overland, passing through several countries before crossing the border from Algeria to Tunisia with a group of sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees aided by a people smuggler. She paid 250 euros ($266) to the smuggler, but her plans soon fell apart as she was unable to find a job and without money, unable to buy enough food or rent a home. She spent each day looking for work or for someone to help her find a place to stay, but was constantly harassed by police.
Yanga’s life in Tunisia progressively worsened following President Saied’s February 21 comments at the country’s National Security Council, in which he said migration from sub-Saharan Africa aimed to change Tunisia’s national identity. Those comments, and Saied’s rhetoric since then, have been denounced by the president’s opponents and the African Union, and have led to what has been described by advocacy groups as a racist backlash against sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia, as well as Black Tunisians, particularly on social media.
The far-right Tunisian National Party has also led a campaign calling for the expulsion of sub-Saharan African immigrants, framing immigration to Tunisia from other parts of Africa as being part of an effort to initiate demographic change in the country. Migrants and refugees have used social media to show the consequences of some of that rhetoric. Videos show physical attacks on the people themselves, as well as on their homes.
Tunisian security forces, however, appear to be targeting the migrants themselves, rather than the perpetrators of the attacks. According to Lawyers Without Borders, an advocacy group, approximately 800 sub-Saharan Africans have been arrested. Others have been evicted from homes they had rented or have lost their jobs.
Yanga herself says that she has since been attacked by two men who took a bag containing her passport. With a continuing security clampdown on illegal immigration and fearful of being imprisoned because of her immigration status, Yanga says that she has not gone to the police following the attack. Instead, she is hoping that the DR Congo will follow in the footsteps of other African countries, such as Guinea and the Ivory Coast, in working to bring her home.
In conclusion, Yanga’s story highlights the plight of sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees in Tunisia who are facing a rising tide of racism due to anti-migrant statements issued by President Kais Saied. The situation has led to a racist backlash against sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia, as well as Black Tunisians, particularly on social media. The Tunisian security forces appear to be targeting the migrants themselves rather than the perpetrators of the attacks. As a result, many migrants and refugees are hoping to return home with the help of their respective governments.