Attacks on Congo students spur anti-racism legislation

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has called for the urgent introduction of legislation against racism, following knife attacks against three Congolese students in Tunis and a protest sit-in by African students against racist acts and official indifference.

The attack on the three students from the Democratic Republic of Congo took place on 24 December in Tunis town centre. The two women were seriously wounded and detained in hospital, one of them in a coma, and their male companion who tried to rescue them was released after treatment for stab wounds, reported La Presse of Tunis.

The interior ministry said the attacker, whose father described him as ‘disturbed’, was placed under arrest and an inquiry was in progress, La Presse reported.

The next day about 100 students of various Sub-Saharan African nationalities staged a sit-in to protest racist acts of which they were targets, against the indifference of the Tunisian authorities, and against the sense of lawlessness and social rejection they felt in a country that had bilateral agreements with their own countries, reported La Presse.

They also claimed the same ‘disturbed’ man had attacked a woman student from the Côte d’Ivoire a month previously.

The demonstrators were not only angry and aggrieved about the verbal and physical aggression which they said had inceased since 2011, said La Presse, but also confused when they tried to understand the reasons for the apathy of the authorities who did nothing to make their lives easier.

“We have enormous difficulties obtaining student residence permits from the relevant authorities, which leaves us open to various problems and severely penalises us. Our diplomatic representatives have tried to get answers but their correspondence remains unanswered,” they told La Presse.

According to the newspaper there are 6,000 students from Sub-Saharan Africa studying in Tunisia, about half the number doing so before the 2011 revolution.

Ogandaga Johan-Alix, president of the association for Gabonese students in Tunisia, told Deutsche Welle he saw the attack as not against the Congolese “but against the Sub-Saharan community in Tunisia. We are truly very shocked because this is only the crystallisation of what we have already been experiencing here in Tunisia for several years.”

As a result of such events, in June some Tunisian civil organisations put forward a proposal to criminalise all kinds of discrimination. Messaoud Romdhani, vice-president of the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Économiques et Sociaux (Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights), told Deutsche Welle: “We have noticed there is a void in the Tunisian constitution and a legal void in Tunisian law concerning racism. And at the same time, there is a rise in attacks on Africans in Tunisia.”

At present there is no specific law in the country against discrimination, and the only law that mentions it is on press freedom, said Deutsche Welle.

The organisations have sent their proposal to members of parliament, including how to deal legally with racism and what cultural and educational measures can help to stop the attacks.

Chahed announced his support for legislation against racism, and called for parliament to give it priority, reported Radio France Internationale.

This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.