International institutions are protesting Tunisia's racist crackdown on migrants NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to reporter Erin Clare Brown of New Lines Magazine about Tunisia's government crackdown on Sub-Saharan migrants.

International institutions are protesting Tunisia's racist crackdown on migrants

International institutions are protesting Tunisia's racist crackdown on migrants

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NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to reporter Erin Clare Brown of New Lines Magazine about Tunisia's government crackdown on Sub-Saharan migrants.

Migrants camp outside the headquarters of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Tunis, on March 7, 2023. After President Kais Saied ordered "urgent measures" against irregular sub-Saharan migrants, hundreds of West Africans, evicted in recent days by landlords fearing heavy fines for hosting undocumented migrants, have flocked to their embassies in Tunis to seek repatriation. Fethi Belad /AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Fethi Belad /AFP via Getty Images

Migrants camp outside the headquarters of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Tunis, on March 7, 2023. After President Kais Saied ordered "urgent measures" against irregular sub-Saharan migrants, hundreds of West Africans, evicted in recent days by landlords fearing heavy fines for hosting undocumented migrants, have flocked to their embassies in Tunis to seek repatriation.

Fethi Belad /AFP via Getty Images

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Why is Tunisia cracking down on migrants? The North African nation, if you see it on a map, stands between sub-Saharan Africa, which a lot of people are fleeing, and Europe, where a lot of people are trying to go. President Kais Saied has drawn global criticism for the way he's responded. And we're going to talk about that with Erin Clare Brown, North Africa editor at New Lines Magazine and creator of the podcast "Revolution 1," about Tunisia's uprising. Welcome.

ERIN CLARE BROWN: Hi. Thanks.

INSKEEP: So what exactly is Tunisia doing to people who try to pass through?

BROWN: Well, it's not just people who are trying to pass through. In fact, Tunisia has got around 80,000 folks who live here from sub-Saharan Africa, whether they're migrant workers who are here for a period of time, people who are trying to get to Europe or even students. And in the last couple of weeks, President Kais Saied, who's our sort of ascendant autocrat here, has turned to scapegoating the Black population as a way to detract attention from his failed economic policy.

And so what's been happening is there was a speech that he gave on February 21 that really kind of embraced this idea of the great replacement theory. He said that there was a conspiracy to replace the Tunisian population with Black Africans. And as a result, tons of Tunisia's Black residents were kicked out of their homes. They were driven out of their jobs. And there's been a lot of racist violence on the street in the last couple of weeks. It's really suddenly changed the tenor of both the political conversation in Tunisia and just the way people are feeling on the streets day to day.

INSKEEP: I want to note, when you talk about the great replacement theory, there is an American version of that, a conspiracy theory that that's a plot behind migration. So you're saying that he's picked this up, the president has picked this up in Tunisia. And I want to understand something else that you're telling me. Are you telling me this is not, then, official violence by authorities going and arresting people? It is essentially a political narrative that is encouraging citizens to turn on migrants who might be next door?

BROWN: Well, it's both. So there have been large roundups of Black Africans in Tunisia, whether they're here legally or illegally. There have been big police sweeps picking people up off of the street and then running them through the judicial system here. But then, largely, I think this has been - you know, the president embracing this kind of overt racism has given people license to essentially kind of go on vigilante raids. And so you're starting to see violence against people that ranges from everything from people being beaten or raped or, you know, sort of brutally injured in more popular neighborhoods to even something as seemingly insignificant as nannies in very posh quarters having rocks thrown at them while they're out with their young charges.

INSKEEP: If there are vigilante raids, it sounds like at least some citizens in Tunisia support his call for some kind of action. Are there also people who support the migrants?

BROWN: Yes. There's a recent organization that's been founded by lots of people sort of on the left. It's an anti-fascist coalition. And there was a big march a weekend or so ago in Tunisia in solidarity with the migrants here.

INSKEEP: Reporter and podcaster Erin Clare Brown is in Tunis, where a crackdown on migrants from sub-Saharan Africa is underway. Thanks very much for the insights.

BROWN: Of course.

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