The violence began after a speech from Tunisian president Kais Saied in February, in which he said “hordes” of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa were bringing “violence, crime and unacceptable practices” to Tunisia and conspiring to make the country less Arab.
There are approximately 7,000 Sub-Saharan African students in Tunisia, some of whom were caught up in the brutality.
After Saied’s speech, which has been widely condemned internationally, mobs took to the streets to attack black migrants, including students, while police detained and deported others, with over 40 students reportedly arrested.
Christian Kwongang, president of AESAT, an association for African students and trainees in Tunisia, said in the wake of the outbreak that students feel unsafe travelling to class for fear of being attacked.
Countries including Mali, Guinea and the Ivory Coast have begun voluntary repatriations of their citizens in Tunisia. One student association told Africa news that 30 students had signed up for a repatriation flight to Ivory Coast despite having permits to stay in Tunisia.
After initially denying racism, the Tunisian authorities released a statement on March 5, describing Africans as “brothers” and introducing new measures for Sub-Saharan Africans in the country, including residence cards for students.
But organisations including Human Rights Watch said the measures fail to go far enough as violence continues in the country.
Two Congolese students were attacked on the same day the statement was released, according to AESAT. The group urged students to be “extremely careful” when travelling to university and many are now studying online to avoid leaving their homes.
The ESPRIT Group, a private higher education provider in Tunisia, allowed its 395 Sub-Sarahan African students to learn online while the situation unfolded, alongside other measures including establishing a helpline and ensuring a psychologist was available to support students.
“We recognise the value of diversity and are committed to promoting tolerance”
The institution also organised a meeting for Sub-Saharan students to “reiterate our unwavering support for our international students”, according to Lamjed Bettaieb, deputy general manager of ESPRIT Group, which is part of Honoris United Universities.
“We recognise the value of diversity and are committed to promoting tolerance, understanding, and mutual respect,” Bettaieb said. “We will continue to put the safety and well-being of our students at the forefront of our mission.”