The violence began after a speech by Tunisian President Kais Saied in February in which he said “hordes” of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were bringing “violence, crimes and unacceptable practices” to Tunisia and conspiring to make the country less Arab.
There are approximately 7,000 students from sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia, some of whom have been caught up in the brutality.
After Saied’s speech, which was widely condemned internationally, mobs took to the streets to attack black migrants, including students, while police detained and deported others, with more than 40 students reportedly arrested.
Following the outbreak, Christian Kwongang, president of AESAT, an association for African students and interns in Tunisia, said students did not feel safe traveling to class for fear of being attacked.
Countries including Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast have begun voluntary repatriations of their citizens in Tunisia. A student association told Africa News that 30 students signed up for a repatriation flight to Ivory Coast despite having residency permits in Tunisia.
After initially denying racism, Tunisian authorities issued a statement on March 5 describing Africans as “brothers” and introducing new measures for sub-Saharan Africans in the country, including residence cards for students.
But organizations including Human Rights Watch said the measures do not go far enough as violence continues in the country.
According to AESAT, two Congolese students were attacked on the same day the statement was published. The group urged students to be “extremely cautious” when traveling to university, with many now studying online to avoid leaving their homes.
ESPRIT Group, a private higher education provider in Tunisia, allowed its 395 students from sub-Sarahan Africa to learn online while the situation unfolded, along with other measures including setting up a helpline and ensuring the availability of a psychologist to support students.
“We recognize the value of diversity and are committed to promoting tolerance”
The institution also organized a meeting for sub-Saharan students to “reiterate our unwavering support for our international students,” said Lamjed Bettaieb, deputy CEO of ESPRIT Group, part of Honoris United Universities.
“We recognize the value of diversity and are committed to promoting tolerance, understanding and mutual respect,” Bettaieb said. “We will continue to put the safety and well-being of our students at the forefront of our mission.”