Last Stop Before Paradise

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Sixteen-year-old Adam migrated with his father and younger brother from Sierra Leone in West Africa to Tunisia on the Mediterranean coast two years ago. Today, after their father was arrested in Algeria, the two brothers live on the street in Al Amra, a coastal city in eastern Tunisia.

Adam, whose name was changed in the Guardian, and his brother are two of at least 1,500 migrant children living in Tunisia, a major disembarkation point for Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian migrants seeking safety and economic opportunities in Europe. Many of these migrants die when the rickety, overburdened boats carrying them sink in the Mediterranean, as Le Monde noted.

The migrant crisis in Tunisia is one of the many destabilizing factors now rocking the country, which was, until recently, one of the few functioning democracies in the region following the Arab Spring, when Tunisians ousted dictator President Ben Ali in 2011 after 23 years in office.

Instead, protests are breaking out, such as one earlier this month in the capital Tunis protesting deteriorating living conditions under President Kais Saied.

Detailing those conditions is a recent French broadcaster’s investigation called, “Between Poverty and Dictatorship, The Grand Step Backwards”. The one-hour documentary highlights how Saied has allegedly undermined human rights, promoted racism and violence toward sub-Saharan migrants, and mismanaged the economy since he won office in 2019, the New Arab reported.

Tunisian Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani lambasted the film as a hit job produced by the country’s enemies.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International, however, have echoed the film’s accusations, such as Saied’s racist and xenophobic comments last month that prompted a series of attacks on Black individuals as well as summary arrests of foreign sub-Saharan nationals.

Saied has also had arrested political dissidents, opposition leaders and others who criticize or challenge his rule, which many in Tunisia and internationally view as a de facto coup d’état, added World Politics Review.

Regardless, the leader’s crackdown on civil society and focus on migrants are designed to draw attention away from the inflation, food shortages, and the government’s debt challenges, say analysts. Saied has called on the Central Bank of Tunisia to help plug the country’s deficits and the need for additional debt, but critics suggest the move will further harm the economy, wrote Al Jazeera.

Foreign investors certainly will think twice before lending Tunisia money when the country needs the Central Bank to pay its bills. The move would probably cause the value of Tunisia’s currency, the dinar, to drop like a stone. In 2022, the International Monetary Fund loaned the country $2 billion, Agence France-Presse wrote. Yet, at present, the Tunisian economy is barely growing and the rate of unemployment is one of the highest in the region.

Meanwhile, as the migrants remain stuck in this hostile and impoverished weigh station, protests broke out in the small coastal village of El Hancha near Sfax: The village is missing about three dozen people under the age of 35, Al Jazeera reported, and their families want to know what happened to them.

Like thousands of migrants from Africa, in January these young Tunisians boarded a boat to try to make the dangerous route to Europe to win a better life.

Their boat was lost. The government has said nothing.

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