Arbitrary Arrests of Black Sub-Saharan Students on the Rise

TUNISIA

Civil society and student organizations have warned of a sharp increase in arbitrary arrests of sub-Saharan students in Tunisia.

The Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia (AESAT – Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia) delivered a press conference on February 10 in which its leaders alleged an alarming increase in the mistreatment of sub-Saharan students in the capital, Tunis.

Talk to Academia News later, Christian Kwongang, the president of AESAT, claimed that the association had counted around 300 arrests of sub-Saharan Africans, including many students, in the last six weeks in the municipality of Ariana in Tunis alone – a neighborhood with a large population of sub-Saharan Africans. Saharawis, including students.

He said: “We have seen that this wave of police attacks on students from sub-Saharan countries began in November with the arrest of a young woman who was sentenced to two weeks in prison” for lack of residence papers. . AESAT withheld his name and university for reasons of confidentiality.

Kwongang says the arrests and alleged mistreatment reflect deep-rooted racism, as black students appear to be the targets of the action, rather than whites and Arabs.

The president of AESAT claimed that the Tunisian police were subjecting these students to arbitrary interrogations and searches in the Ariana metro station, cafes and higher education establishments, such as the Private Higher School of Engineering and Technology (ESPRIT – Private School of Engineering and Technology).

students humiliated

He said that “student morale is very low”. As a result, he said: “A lot of people don’t go out anymore. They [the police] gathered students from ESPRIT University and many of them are only 18 years old. It’s very traumatic. »

The students, he said, claim to be intimidated by police, then arrested, taken to a police station where, AESAT categorically asserted in a statement, they are fingerprinted and l DNA and are often photographed in humiliating ways “as seen in American movies”. when criminals are photographed after their arrest,” and then released.

Some are then arrested again and even taken to the detention center in Tunis, El Ouardia, where some undocumented students are threatened with forced deportation, which involves being taken to the Algerian border and abandoned, he said. declared.

Kwongang was pleased that ESPRIT released a statement, reassuring students of the college’s support for students facing such law enforcement issues.

Modeste Coucou, a 25-year-old Beninese, currently in continuing education in management information technology in Tunis, within a training organization that he did not want to name, says Academia News that he had been arrested on February 1.

A policeman asked for his papers and his passport at the Ariana metro station. “He started pushing me,” Coucou said. “I told him to stop harassing me, but he cornered me and took my passport.

“When I asked why I was being arrested, he insisted on taking me to the police station.”

Coucou’s ordeal included witnessing police brutality. “I saw them bring a Côte d’Ivoire and they were shaking him violently and treating him like he was just an animal.”

He also said that the police had tried to force him to sign documents in Arabic, without explanation of their content and that he did not understand, “but I refused to sign them”.

Coucou alleged that the Tunisian government has been particularly slow to process the immigration papers of sub-Saharan Africans, leaving some in violation of their original visas.

“I would call the arrests and the slowness in processing our papers racist because we are being targeted,” Coucou said, which is a shame because the Tunisian higher education system offers opportunities for study and vocational training and education. experience unavailable in Benin. “I just want to finish my training and go back to my country,” Coucou said.

He added: “When we return to our countries, we students are the ambassadors of Tunisia, but I would not advise any Beninese student to come to study or train in Tunisia; the situation here is not comfortable.

Decline of sub-Saharan students

Kwongang said Coucou’s experience is similar to that of many sub-Saharan students in Tunisia, who are also attacked by Tunisian nationals in general, he claimed.

It showed Academia News a video of a student from sub-Saharan Africa who had been stabbed by a Tunisian student.

He was bleeding from multiple wounds and in extreme pain on a hospital stretcher while a doctor attended to him.

Kwongang praised the medical staff for their professionalism, but said the knife attack was not an isolated incident.

Academia News also witnessed violence committed by young Tunisian men against young sub-Saharan men.

AESAT works with a French NGO Land of asylum support arrested students by providing them with lawyers.

“AESAT is developing an app that its members can use in case of emergency, for quick response from AESAT team to come and help them if they are arrested or assaulted,” Kwongang said.

Coucou attributes his quick release from police custody to the intervention of the president of the Beninese section of AESAT: “Without the president of AESAT, I would have stayed in this police station for six or seven hours or more,” said Coucou. he declared. said.

Land of asylum works with the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT – world organization against torture) and the Tunisian civil liberties association, Arthemis (Association for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms), in order to develop a monitoring program to quantify and track police violence against this community.

“It’s a very serious situation; these arrests only concern black students,” said Arij Djelassi, project coordinator for Arthemis. Academia News“The Ministry of the Interior did not communicate the number of arrests to the [relevant] embassies.

“We are currently coordinating with our partners in the sub-Saharan community, including AESAT, to try to coordinate the data as best we can,” she explained.

“Next week, we are meeting with sub-Saharan community associations and civil society actors to better understand how community members are affected and what their needs are.

Both Djelassi and Kwongang pointed out that, in any case, there has been a marked decline in the number of sub-Saharan African students studying in Tunisia since the 2010-11 revolution that toppled authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Djelassi cited the Tunisian Institute of Statistics showing that between 2000 and 2010 the average number of sub-Saharan students in Tunisia was 15,000 and “now there are only 5,000”.

Academia News contacted private universities about the allegations, but most were unavailable or declined to comment.

“We are all Africans”

However, a spokesperson for Sesame University (The Private School of Applied Sciences and Management) confirmed that students from sub-Saharan Africa were experiencing delays in obtaining residence permits.

The university had also contacted the Home Office regarding the increase in arrests but received no response.

As for the decline in the number of sub-Saharan African students in private Tunisian universities, she said that COVID-19 has been a problem, because “the majority of people in sub-Saharan countries do not want to be vaccinated, they do not do it. so no”. meet the conditions for entry into Tunisia”.

Kwongang disagreed and argued that “students prefer to go to Morocco to study rather than Tunisia”, saying that students from sub-Saharan Africa claimed that Morocco was less racist than Tunisia and that it was easier to live there as a student.

The Tunisian Interior Ministry did not respond to requests from the UWN to comment on the allegations.

Djelassi said that in the future, Arthemis must “provide information to the sub-Saharan community about their rights under Tunisian law.”

She alleged that there was poor coverage of the arrests in the Tunisian media and that there was a hangover from discrimination of Tunisia’s historic slave trade and domestic slavery, which was abolished in 1846.

Since many Tunisians are predominantly of Berber (Amazigh) origin, “we need to make people aware that we are all Africans,” she said.

About Wesley V. Finley

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