Photo: Radek Homola sur Unsplash
The following is a summary of the different initiatives that aim to support migrants and refugees in Tunisia during the period of the COVID-19 crisis. These initiatives take several forms such as press releases, petitions, participatory funding and aid distributions. This information is based entirely and solely on the publications of the associations, organizations and entities conducting these campaigns.
1. Press releases
April 23, 2020: Communiqué of the associations, social movements and trade unions involved in the dynamics of the Maghreb Social Forum.
The associations, social movements and trade unions, committed to the Dynamics of the Maghreb Social Forum for a democratic and inclusive Maghreb of the peoples, express their concern about the fragilities, the shortcomings of social protection, the right of access to health services, the obligation of States to protect the lives of citizens.
According to a press release issued on Thursday, April 23, 2020, the Dynamique du Forum Social Maghreb, of which the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) is a part, calls on states to put in place the various mechanisms for the protection of people at risk provided for under international humanitarian law and to urgently close the various detention centers (formal or informal) for undocumented migrants in the North and South of the Mediterranean.
It also calls for the joint and concerted launch of a Maghreb initiative at the level of the Maghreb states, at the national level, to establish a climate of trust, reassure these migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking populations and formalise their care, so that their right to health, on an equal footing with nationals, is guaranteed.
Courageous measures must also be taken for an exceptional operation to regularize migrants present on Maghreb territory and to pay particular attention to the fate of minors and isolated migrant women who are prey to human traffickers. It is also necessary to establish equal access with nationals to health care and to the various provisions of labour law, to provide decent housing for all homeless migrants, to ensure that migrants benefit from financial support measures on the same basis as nationals and to set up a specific information and support platform for migrants.
According to the communiqué, incarcerated migrants should also benefit from the release measures taken by some Maghreb states. The Dynamics of the Maghreb Social Forum believes that it is the duty and obligation of States to guarantee and respect the right of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to health and social protection, adds the statement.
April 09, 2020: Declaration on the measures announced by the Tunisian authorities in favour of foreigners in Tunisia
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Tunisia, the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Tunisian Refugee Council made the following statement:
We have followed with great interest the package of measures announced by the Tunisian authorities on 7 April 2020 for foreigners in Tunisia as part of national efforts to combat the Corona epidemic and to take note of all its repercussions following a meeting that brought together the Ministers of the Interior, Social Affairs and Human Rights and relations with constitutional bodies and civil society.
We welcome the initiative of the Tunisian Government, which is considered a precedent in the Arab region, and the special attention it has paid to foreigners in this exceptional and difficult situation, especially groups whose situation is characterized by fragility owing to its specificity, the most important of which are asylum-seekers, refugees and irregular migrants. We also appreciate the adoption of such decisions at a time when Tunisia is facing major health, financial and economic challenges, and these decisions are in perfect harmony with the human sense of solidarity with which Tunisia is known and its desire to prevail in noble human values, especially in times of crisis.
We cannot fail to commend the efforts of the Tunisian authorities and their concern to activate the principle of non-discrimination between Tunisian citizens and foreigners present in Tunisian countries, particularly with regard to the use of public health services when necessary and to provide them with assistance, and urged the host community to take account of the specific nature of the current situation by postponing the release of certain contributions from Tunisia’s
The organizations that issued this statement wish to stress the urgent need to coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders, in particular local and international associations and NGOs, which have graciously provided assistance to refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants. We stress the importance of developing a unified and coherent framework to protect against the risk of dispersal of efforts and to ensure that assistance is targeted to those who deserve it in the required manner and feasibility.
On this occasion, we renew our commitment to support national efforts and to provide the necessary care and information to refugees and asylum seekers and we urge the Tunisian authorities to activate the measures they have announced, which we will support and endeavour to reinforce through the various activities we are organising in the areas of our intervention.
April 10, 2020: Government measure are encouraging but stronger decisions are needed to protect migrants and refugees from COVID-19
As part of its efforts to prevent and respond effectively to this pandemic, the Tunisian Government has taken courageous steps to combat this scourge by deciding to confine it throughout the country and by setting up emergency social assistance for the most needy, who are violently suffering the consequences of the health, social and economic crisis.
At a meeting on 7 April, the Ministers of the Interior, Social Affairs and Human Rights, and of Relations with Constitutional bodies and civil society, took positive measures in favour of foreigners resident in Tunisia. The visa expiry dates and financial implications were suspended, it was decided that financial and in-kind aid would be specifically granted, and landlords were formally requested to postpone rent payments for the months of March and April 2020. These are positive measures that we encourage and that must be followed by other measures to respond in a sustainable way to the challenges at hand.
We, Tunisian civil society organizations, continue to express our deep concern about the extreme precariousness of the most vulnerable and in particular those whose status deprives them of the right to health: migrants, refugees and asylum seekers present on Tunisian territory.
The Executive Director of UNICEF declared on 1 April 2020: “The COVID-19 pandemic could devastate the populations of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons without urgent international action”.
We emphasize the double vulnerability of these populations, often socially excluded, living in crowded conditions and today deprived of any source of income, to cope with the epidemic and the consequences of confinement. Their administrative situation greatly amplifies the risks and confronts individuals and their families with insurmountable obstacles without courageous government intervention. To date, despite initiatives by various civil society actors, there is no national plan in Tunisia to specifically inform these communities and refer them to the health care and other prevention services, which are essential for containing the pandemic throughout the country.
We therefore call on the government to take a national initiative to establish a climate of trust, reassure these populations and formalize their care, so that their right to health, in the same way as Tunisian men and women, is guaranteed. In line with international appeals from human rights activists, we call on the government to study alternatives to the detention of refugees and migrants vulnerable to the disease who are stuck in the El Ouardia and Ben Gardanne centres, given the high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying in the event of infection.
We warn of the heavy responsibility that the exclusion of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers present on Tunisian territory from the national health system and the exceptional economic aid provided, and of any possible discriminatory practices that would be an infringement of their fundamental rights and in contradiction with the efforts to reduce contagion and eradicate the pandemic in our country.
We call on the government to assume this historic responsibility and to create the conditions for an exceptional operation to regularize migrants present on Tunisian territory. This responsibility responds to the various appeals from Tunisian human rights organisations and to the concerns expressed for several years and on several occasions by the social partners regarding the precariousness and exploitation of irregular workers in Tunisia.
Refugees and migrants live and work alongside us and within our families, they cannot be abandoned. The vast majority of them have come from Africa, a continent that we share and with which Tunisia has chosen to increase development and mutually beneficial cooperation. National solidarity towards the most vulnerable cannot disregard the extreme circumstances faced by the migrant populations present on our territory.
We, civil society organizations, make this appeal for the right to health for ALL.
Photo: James Beheshti on Unsplash
Creation of COVID-19 Tunisia African Solidarity Cell
The cell called AFRICAN SOLIDARITY is an initiative of the sub-Saharan migrant civil society in Tunisia, composed precisely of sub-Saharan migrant organizations based in Tunisia as well as sub-Saharan volunteers all living in Tunisia as well. It aims in particular at :
– to sensitize and prevent sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia from the risks and modes of contamination with COVID-19,
– to come to the aid of and assist sub-Saharan migrants in vulnerable situations in this period of health crisis through appeals for donations; food vouchers and medical aid which will then be redistributed to them,
– to support Tunisian civil society organizations, NGOs, International Organizations and Public and Private Institutions, especially Ministries, Enterprises, etc., wishing to bring their help and assistance to the whole migrant community of sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia, in this period of health crisis due to COVID-19.
This cell is composed, representatively, of the following associations:
AESAT (Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia) ALDA (Association for Leadership and Development in Africa) ASSIVAT (Association of Active Ivorians in Tunisia) AIT (Association of Ivorians in Tunisia) AST (Association of Senegalese in Tunisia) CSBE (Higher Council of Burkinabés Abroad) The Cameroonian Community in Tunisia, Le Haut Conseil des Maliens en Tunisie, CRRDCT (La Communauté des Ressortissants de la RD Congo en Tunisie), RLF Media, Afroplanete, Afrikyes
Sfax: solidarity with migrants during the COVID-19 period
The Municipality of Sfax in partnership with Terre d’asile Tunisie calls for solidarity with the migrant community living in the municipality of Sfax. This initiative follows the containment measures adopted by the Tunisian State to fight against the spread of COVID-19, leading to the loss of sources of income for migrants and a very precarious situation. The City Council of Sfax and Terre d’asile Tunisie and invite all components of civil society, inhabitants, investors of Sfax and anyone sensitive to the situation of vulnerable migrants to join the solidarity movement that is being set up and to support this initiative. For the first time in its history, the city of Sfax is carrying out an action of solidarity on this scale in favour of migrants despite the very difficult economic and social situation of the city and the country. You can read the document here and visit citiesforglobalhealth.org/sfax
Setting up of a toll-free number to help migrants settled in Tunisia
A new toll-free number devoted to monitoring the conditions of foreigners established in Tunisia (students, refugees, asylum-seekers, regular and irregular migrants) has just been set up by a committee set up by the Ministry of Human Rights, Relations with Constitutional Bodies and Civil Society.
Bringing together representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Association of People’s Representatives, the International Organization for Migration, the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the National Observatory of Migration, some municipalities and several components of civil society, this issue is intended to assist this category in this exceptional health situation, reads a statement published on the facebook page of the Ministry.
In addition to receiving requests and complaints from foreigners resident in Tunisia, the line is open to people wishing to make donations.
List of solidarity initiatives for migrants in Tunisia
Terre d’Asile Tunisia provides migrants with this list of solidarity initiatives that have emerged since the beginning of the measures to fight the pandemic. Indeed, these provisional measures to fight against COVID-19 have led civil society organizations to mobilize by identifying, according to their field of expertise, the needs they are able, as far as possible, to meet. This list, developed by Terre d’Asile Tunisia, is not exhaustive. If you have set up a solidarity initiative aimed at migrants and wish to include it in this list, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
RTCI organizes on Friday 1st May the African Solidarity Day for Migrants
In partnership with the African Solidarity Cell COVID-19 Tunisia, RTCI (Radio Tunis Chaîne Internationale) organizes this Friday, May 1st, 2020 the African Solidarity Day for Migrants.
This day intends to support the efforts of the government and civil society to guarantee dignity to members of the sub-Saharan community and more generally to migrant people in this period of crisis.
A platform to help foreigners
The Ministry of Human Rights, Relations with Constitutional Bodies and Civil Society announced, on Monday 27 April 2020, the launch of an application on the site “Aide-COVID-19” to help foreigners stranded in Tunisia, and who are facing financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken by the authorities to deal with it.
The ministry said the application was set up as part of the fight against the negative impact on foreigners in vulnerable situations in Tunisia, such as students, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, “regardless of their legal status,” the statement said.
3. Calls for the protection of the rights of migrants
Call to protect housing and health rights in times of coronavirus
Civil society organizations issued a statement on 22 April 2020 calling on the Tunisian authorities to protect the right to housing and health for all in the face of the coronavirus pandemic:
Since 22 March 2020, Tunisia has proclaimed the general containment of its population in order to fight against the coronavirus epidemic in Tunisia. 726 cases have been confirmed coronavirus and yet landlords continue to evict tenants. The International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI), including the coordination of IAI Tunisia, Médecins du Monde Belgium-Mission Tunisia and the organisations co-signing this press release call on the government and local authorities to protect the right to housing and health of all people to face the coronavirus pandemic. We are deeply concerned by the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus emergency in Tunisia, which add to and worsen the situation of families and individuals, who are homeless or threatened with eviction because they have no income and are unable to pay their rents or mortgages.
Call for the reinforcement of the protection of migrants and refugees in Tunisia against COVID-19
Civil society organizations, members of parliament and public figures called, in a joint communiqué issued on Friday 10 April 2020, for the strengthening of the protection of migrants and refugees in Tunisia against COVID-19 in order to guarantee the right to health for all.
The signatories call on the government to take a national initiative to establish a climate of trust, reassure these populations and formalize their care, so that their right to health, on the same level as Tunisians, is guaranteed.
They call on the government to study alternatives to the detention of refugees and migrants vulnerable to the disease who are stuck in the centres of El Ouardia and Ben Gardanne, in view of the high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying in the event of infection.
They consider that the exclusion of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers present on Tunisian territory from the national health system and the exceptional economic aid put in place would be a violation of their fundamental rights and contradict the efforts to reduce contagion and eradicate the pandemic in the country.