In mid-September of the previous year, Ayoub Abdullah, a Sudanese national, entered Tunisian territory, fleeing the hell of the raging war in his homeland, carrying only the hope of finding a safe refuge and a decent humane life.
Ayoub, 25, didn't foresee that his destiny would entail sleeping under the open sky amidst the olive trees in the Sfax province of Tunisia, alongside dozens of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. This comes at a time when human rights organizations are accusing the European Commission of turning a blind eye to the violations suffered by these migrants.
Starting from July, Tunisian authorities initiated the relocation of scores of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa to border areas near Libya and Algeria. By the close of September 2023, approximately 500 migrants had been moved by security units to rural zones in the Sfax region of Tunisia.
Migrants under the olive trees
Ayoub Abdullah, hailing from the city of Al-Junaynah in the West Darfur state, currently resides under an olive tree in the Al-Amra region of Sfax, alongside nearly twenty migrants, all enduring challenging humanitarian and health conditions.
Ayoub tells Raseef22, "I left my family in Chad and embarked on a perilous journey to escape my war-torn country, in search of a safe haven. Upon arriving in Tunisia, I was startled by the plight of migrants and refugees, and I didn't really find what I was looking for."
He went on to say, "I never anticipated what has happened to me; I've been living under an olive tree for close to a month, drinking polluted, brackish water. Despite coming from a war-stricken nation, I haven't been able to obtain my right to asylum, as prescribed by international laws and conventions."
With winter's arrival on the horizon, Ayoub and hundreds of other migrants are growing increasingly anxious about their uncertain future, particularly given that the European Commission for Migrant Affairs has not yet provided them with tents for shelter against the cold nights and the scorching sun of the day.
"I've been living under an olive tree for nearly a month, drinking contaminated, brackish water, and despite hailing from a war-torn nation, I haven't been able to obtain my right to asylum."
Ayoub, along with hundreds of migrants, aspires to make his way to Europe. He reveals to Raseef22, "I never think about settling in Tunisia; and I strive to leave this country and migrate to Europe, in the hope of finding a stable life and a safe refuge."
Since their arrival in Tunisia, Ayoub Abdullah and roughly twenty Sudanese refugees have been trying to secure both material and psychological support from the European Commission, given that they have escaped a country at war. Regrettably, they have yet to receive any support, recognition, or even a meeting with the Commission.
Memorandum of understanding between Tunisia and the EU
In July of the previous year, the European Union and Tunisia formalized a memorandum of understanding for a "comprehensive strategic partnership." Under this memorandum, the European Union offers financial aid to Tunisia in return for the nation's efforts to combat irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea.
The European Commission stresses the significance of executing this memorandum, which stipulates that "financial assistance of 105 million euros will be extended to combat irregular migration, alongside direct financial assistance of 150 million euros to countries facing economic hardship."
As winter approaches, Ayoub and hundreds of other migrants are growing increasingly anxious about their uncertain future, particularly given that the European Commission for Migrant Affairs has not yet provided them with tents for shelter
The European Union indicated that it has entered into two contracts as part of a memorandum of understanding aimed at ensuring the safeguarding of migrants in Tunisia and promoting the "voluntary return" of migrants to their home countries.
The first agreement, valued at 13 million euros, was signed with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), while the second, valued at 8 million euros, was concluded with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Agreements threatening the rights of migrants
These agreements have faced criticism from human rights organizations that believe "Tunisia is engaging in the signing of unjust agreements that imperil the rights of irregular migrants in exchange for financial support from the European Union."
In an interview with Raseef22, Imad Al-Sultani, President of the Land for All Association (Association la terre pour tous), characterizes these agreements as "unjust," contending that the European Commission has, in an official capacity, renounced its responsibility in protecting irregular migrants.
Al-Sultani articulates, "While hundreds of irregular migrants, including women and children, grapple with difficult humanitarian conditions, the European Commission has remained inert, failing to provide them with shelter, medication, and supplies."
He proceeds, "Despite their access to substantial funding to care for migrants, they have abandoned them, and they became a part of the memorandum of understanding, which clearly means they have abandoned migrants and refugees, thereby leaving them to face their fate alone without any form of support or assistance."
Migrants are subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, in addition to attempts at mass expulsions, an act prohibited by international law
Concerning asylum applications, Al-Sultani asserts, "They remain under evaluation for prolonged durations, sometimes up to five years, while asylum seekers face an unknown fate on a land other than their own,."
For its part, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) has called on the European Commission and the Italian government to immediately stop implementing the memorandum of understanding and the allocation of funds intended to enhance border control authorities.
The forum has also implored the Tunisian government to suspend the forced transfer of migrants to border regions with Libya and Algeria, maintaining that such coerced transportation exposes migrants to "inhumane and degrading treatment, and attempts at mass expulsion, an act prohibited by international law."
Within the same context, the forum has urged "international organizations, particularly the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, to suspend all forms of cooperation with the Tunisian government aimed at regulating migration and to adopt a public stance against the memorandum."
The European Commission's neglect of migrants
In a preceding instance, Human Rights Watch called upon the European Commission to cease its disregard of Tunisia's infractions and violations against migrants. This, it stated, was due to the fact that "black Africans in Tunisia had been subjected to violence, arbitrary detentions, and forced evictions as a result of the racist hate speech delivered by the Tunisian President, Kais Saied, in February of the previous year."
The organization asserted in a press release that, "In a move terrible for human rights, the European Union Commission announced on Friday it will go ahead with a controversial deal on migration control, reached in July, by imminently releasing 67 million euros to Tunisia despite an absence of any specific human rights guarantees for migrants and asylum seekers."
Human Rights Watch: "The European Union’s obsession with sealing its borders over saving lives enables partners like Tunisia to go unchallenged for abuses they commit"
Even though Tunisia subsequently declined this monetary offer, citing its reluctance to accept "charity" from the European Union, the European Commission voiced its commitment to engage in further dialogue with Tunisian authorities regarding the execution of the memorandum of understanding.
The organization made it clear that "the rush to send money"from the European Union to Tunisia "comes after a significant increase in boats departing from Tunisia in recent weeks" en route to Europe. This, they contended, "demonstrates once again how the EU’s obsession with sealing its borders over saving lives enables partners like Tunisia to not only go unchallenged for abuses they commit."
The organization elaborated that while maritime "sea rescues are vital, the EU mainly wants the Tunisian coast guard to intercept and forcibly return outgoing boats."
According to the statement, Human Rights Watch "and others have documented how the coast guard has committed abuses during and after interceptions, including beatings, theft of peoples’ belongings, leaving people adrift, and dangerous maneuvers that could make boats capsize."
The organization emphatically called on the European Union to "guarantee that Tunisia meets basic human rights benchmarks before sending a single Euro-cent to entities with a demonstrated poor human rights record. Failure to do so, they warned, "risks implicating the EU in causing immense suffering and further fueling serious abuses"and violations against African migrants.
Regrettably, the memorandum of understanding inked between Tunisia and the European Union has thus far proven ineffective in curbing irregular migration, with the period spanning from July to September 2023 witnessing the arrival of roughly 10,000 irregular migrants of Tunisian nationality on Italian shores.
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