Tunisian police used tear gas on Tuesday to disperse homeless black migrants who have been protesting outside a United Nations office to demand evacuation following incendiary comments by President Kais Saied.
AFP journalists saw police breaking up the encampment outside the Tunis office of the global body’s refugee agency UNHCR. The migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have been protesting there, saying they are “not safe” in Tunisia. The UNHCR announced earlier this month that it was suspending asylum activities worldwide as it moved to a new registration system. Migrants in Tunisia have held repeated protests outside the agency’s office in the Lac district of the capital, including on Tuesday, when they erected barricades in front of the UNHCR office there.
Famoussa Koita, a Malian who is recognised by the UN as a legitimate asylum claimant, said many people had been waiting two or three years for the agency to settle their cases.
Migrants also argued with residents of the plush lakeside neighbourhood before being dispersed by police.
Interior ministry spokesman Faker Bouzghaya said the police intervened at the request of the UNHCR and 80 migrants had been detained.
Hundreds of migrants have been living outside the nearby office of the International Organization for Migration, without access to toilets or running water, since Saied claimed without evidence in February that migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were causing crime and represented a “plot” to change Tunisia’s demographic makeup.
Shortly after his speech, black Africans faced a wave of violence and many including pregnant women and children were expelled from their homes and workplaces by landlords fearing fines or prison.
Hundreds of fearful West Africans were flown home on repatriation flights.
A group of migrants told journalists in a text message late Monday that they had been “unjustly kicked out of our homes and got sacked from work” after Saied’s speech.
“We want to be evacuated immediately to any other safe country that will accept and respect us as human, not a country like Tunisia that don’t value us as human,” they said.
“We came to Tunisia… for refuge but Tunisia is not safe for us and we can’t stay in Tunisia anymore.”
Elyes Ben Zakour, a Tunisian who lives nearby, said migrants were “blocking the street” and complained that residents had been unable to leave their houses for 25 days.
After the police dispersed the migrants, an AFP journalist saw UNHCR windows and surveillance cameras broken. Municipal workers removed migrants’ tents and cleared away their belongings.