Tunisia’s President Kais Saied denounced undocumented sub-Saharan African immigration to his country on Tuesday, saying in comments criticised by rights groups that it was aimed at changing Tunisia’s demographic make-up.
Speaking in a meeting with the National Security Council in comments the presidency later published online, Saied said the influx of irregular migrants to Tunisia must quickly be ended.
“The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations,” he said.
Tunisian rights group, which had this week already condemned what they call hate speech directed at African migrants, said Saied’s comments were racist.
“It is a racist approach just like the campaigns in Europe… the presidential campaign aims to create an imaginary enemy for Tunisians to distract them from their basic problems,” said Ramadan Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.
Tunisia is a major transit point for migrants and refugees seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, including growing numbers of both Tunisians and people from other African countries.
Recent social media campaigns in Tunisia have urged authorities to stop African migrants travelling through Tunisia on their way to Europe or settling in the country, as thousands have done.
Tunisian authorities have this month cracked down on migrants, detaining dozens of them.
Saied said in his comments that parties, whom he did not name, had over the past decade settled African migrants in Tunisia in return for money.
Black Tunisians have a long history in the country, making up 10% to 15% of the population, and rights groups have said the country has not done enough to address racism.
The president is engaged in an escalating confrontation with critics who accuse him of a coup for shutting down parliament and seizing most powers in 2021, and police have this month detained many leading opposition figures.
Saied has said his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos.