Since 2015, Tunisia has been an increasingly important transit country for refugees from African countries, a development that has been reinforced by the expansion of the EU border regime in the Mediterranean and the wars in Mali and Libya. The conflict in Libya in particular continues to have direct consequences for Tunisia. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, more than 350,000 people had fled to Tunisia, including almost 100,000 Tunisians who had previously worked in Libya. At the peak of the crisis, more than one million Libyan nationals had fled to Tunisia, though it is unclear how many of them are still residing in Tunisia as of 2020.
Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants from third countries, who had been working in Libya before the war erupted, likewise fled to Tunisia. As refugees and migrant workers have been exposed to systematic mistreatment, torture, extortion and disastrous detention conditions in Libya for years, once again, since 2018 they have increasingly been fleeing to Tunisia.
If the European Union’s violent security apparatus is indeed responsible for the oppression and murder of sub-Saharan migrants (and Tunisians) in Tunisia, the Tunisian state also contributes to their oppression and murder. More and more people try to reach Europe via and from Tunisia. Its proximity to the EU’s external border has made Tunisia a hub for migrants.
The everyday situation for refugees living in Tunisia is precarious, and their legal status unclear due to the absence of a distinct legal framework. Arbitrary policies by authorities, social and economic exclusion, inadequate support by UNHCR and local or international NGOs, xenophobic and violent attacks, and the inherent risk of being arbitrarily detained and deported by Tunisian authorities undermine the rights of people on the move living in the country. Tunisia has ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention and its additional protocols, and Article 26 of the Tunisian Constitution guarantees the right to asylum, though only for political reasons. Asylum recognition procedures have been completely outsourced to the UNHCR.
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