Tunisia. Kaïs Saïed uses the migration crisis to bring civil society into line

Activists and employees of civil society organizations arrested, UN agencies vilified, media including Nawaat, targeted. Once again, the migration crisis serves as a pretext to encourage the hunt for voices critical of (Tunisian President) Kaïs Saïed.

In the wake of this war against irregular migration, figures from civil society have been arrested. Among them, the founder of the Mnemty association and anti-racist activist Saadia Mosbah (as well as other leaders of associations working with sub-Saharan migrants). The charges against them are serious: money laundering or “criminal association with the aim of helping people access Tunisian territory”, according to the prosecution

The Head of State had convened a meeting of the National Security Council on May 6, devoted in particular to the question of irregular migration and foreign financing of associations.

The head of state speaks of “mercenaries”, of “traitors” Who “undermine the state in the name of freedom of expression”. The President of the Republic evokes a plot aimed at the settlement of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia. It is, according to him,“individuals who received money in 2018 to settle irregular migrants in Tunisia”.

NGOs accused of inertia

In this context, Saïed began his diatribe against civil society, in particular against those who help migrants. He thus accuses them of plotting to weaken the State. His argument is based on the publication of a call for tenders in a daily newspaper from a migrant reception association. And on what he calls “funds coming from abroad in millions of dinars”.

His speech comes in a context of migration crisis. For several days, the inhabitants of El-Amra and Jbeniana, two small towns very close, north of Sfax, have expressed their fed up with the presence of sub-Saharan migrants. Several of the latter were installed in the olive groves of the region.

This is not the first time that the head of state has used the migration issue to attack his opponents and civil society in particular. In August 2023, the migration crisis in Sfax was an opportunity to carry out its offensive against them. At the time, he violently criticized the positioning of international and local NGOs in this crisis, without ever naming them. He was content to accuse them of inertia in caring for migrants. “They claim to protect migrants but their so-called protection is limited (to) the publication of false press releases,” he declared.

The novelty with this crisis is that he clearly designated two of these NGOs, in this case the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The latter only publish press releases, says Saïed. And to insist on the need for associations to deal with a single interlocutor, namely the Tunisian State. Paradoxically, to

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