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Sfax is the epicenter of irregular migration in the central Mediterranean.
Tunisia relocates its migrant population in the middle of the desert on the border with Libya, to later be deported to their countries of origin. The government alleges internal security reasons. Analysts suspect that behind these actions is the hand of the European Union.
Tunisia has become an immigration and transit country a long time ago, with migrants coming mainly from the Maghreb and from Sub-Saharan Africa whose aim is to reach Europe through irregular migration from the Tunisian coasts.
On July 4, Anadolu Agency reported clashes between Tunisians and migrants, with an initial death toll of one Tunisian. This event unleashed a wave of violence and rejection by xenophobic sectors of Tunisia, which has led to the forced displacement of hundreds of vulnerable people and the systematic violation of their rights.
However, it is thought that these events do not explain the latest repressive actions taken by the government against migrants, especially in the case of sub-Saharan Africans.
Several European governments have spoken out against the overwhelming increase in departures from the African country to the European shores of the Mediterranean. All this happens around the city of Sfax, a Tunisian city that is only 200 kilometers from the Italian city of Lampedusa.
Sfax is already a violent city plagued by poverty, marginalization, and crime. As AA quoted the director of the Afrique Intelligence Association, "In Sfax two miseries come together: that of a local population that already suffers from poverty and that of a population of desperate immigrants waiting to leave."
For the European Union, the city of Sfax is a sensitive issue. Everything that happens there in terms of migration has a rapid impact on Europe. This is the epicenter of irregular migration in the central Mediterranean.
Given the very nature of irregular migration, no one can tell the numbers of undocumented African migrants, either in Tunisia or in Sfax. However, the fact that their numbers appear to be increasing seems unarguable.
So far this year, Europe has sent several aid packages to the Tunisian government on issues of development, investment, and humanitarian aid. In practice, these actions of solidarity and collaboration end up working as a harsh policy or, in the best of cases, as prerogatives for Tunisia to commit to minimizing the migratory flow towards the Mediterranean. On June 11 of this year, Tunisia received a macrofinancial package in exchange for renewing the migration agreements.
Meanwhile, the repression against migrants has intensified recently. Hundreds of them board trains and all types of transport to escape the city of Sfax in the face of violent rejection by residents and police repression. They fear being deported and left in the intense heat of the desert on the border with Libya.
According to press sources, between 500 and 700 people have been forcibly expelled to the Libyan border in less than a week. Many women and children are trapped there.
"There are children who have not eaten for several days, forced to drink seawater," the press informed about the testimony of people in the place. The majority are sub-Saharan migrants, coming from Cameroon, Guinea, Chad, Sudan, and Senegal.
The inaction of the Tunisian government on the issues of poverty and violence in the country is well known. However, this is the first argument used to justify the latest xenophobic actions of the government. They justify their action as "for the sake of national security."
Currently, the acts of violence and the resurgence of xenophobia in the country, which cannot be denied, are linked to the political and economic pressures of the West.The current economic crisis demands short-term solutions without measuring the cost to thousands of victims of insecurity and poverty.