UN urges Tunisia to curb racist rhetoric, discrimination

Tunisia must take swift action to curb racist rhetoric and combat all forms of racial discrimination and violence against black Africans, including students.

In a statement, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, under its early warning and urgent action procedure, voiced its concern about reports that a “campaign”, focusing on those who are illegally in Tunisia, is allegedly leading to arbitrary arrests of migrants, including students.

The committee also expressed alarm over reports of an increase in racial or xenophobic hate speech on social networks and on some media platforms, leading to violence against migrants.

Kaïs Mabrouk, the managing director of EIGHT University, the International School of Hotel Management of Tunis, told University Word News that, although he believed the migrant situation as described by the UN was exaggerated, he was concerned about the acts of violence and discrimination that have been reported.

“We have a responsibility under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to protect the rights and dignity of all human beings, regardless of their origin or migration status,” added Mabrouk who is also a member of RAMSESS, or the Network for the Scientific Mobility of South-South Students.

“I, therefore, support the committee’s calls on the Tunisian government to take immediate steps to end violence and discrimination against migrants,” he said.

“The UN committee’s statement could contribute to raise the awareness of the Tunisian authorities about the situation of African students in Tunisian universities and prompt them to take measures to protect their rights and safety,” said Mabrouk.

African students as guests

“Before the current crisis, African students had difficulties in obtaining their residence permits in a smooth manner but, since the crisis, things seem to be improving,” Mabrouk said.

According to him, there have been improvements in issuing residence permits, and student associations such as the Tunisian Association of International Students (AESAT) and the Tunisia Africa Business Council (TABC) have been helping students from Africa.

“The president has also issued instructions for students to be treated as guests, which shows the commitment of the Tunisian authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of African students in Tunisian universities,” Mabrouk pointed out.

A toll-free number (80101875) as well as the e-mail address: international@mesrs.state.tn have been created for international students to report concerns.

The ministry of higher education and scientific research has also called upon universities to designate contact points to monitor the situation and, if necessary, provide psychological support to international students.

Higher education institutions have also been requested to submit periodic reports to the ministry.

Protection of African students

Mabrouk said it was essential to protect the rights of students from Sub-Saharan Africa. This is crucial, he added, for the development of Tunisia as a host country for international students. He suggested several measures.

• Strengthen legislation to protect the rights of international students. Existing laws need to be reviewed to ensure that they are in line with international standards and to strengthen sanctions against any form of discrimination or violence against Sub-Saharan students.

• The Tunisian population has to be sensitised about the importance of welcoming and integrating international students to combat discrimination. The media, opinion leaders and public figures should support a culture of tolerance and inclusion.

• Ask Sub-Saharan students to report any form of discrimination or violence against them. Government agencies and civil society organisations should set up counselling services for Sub-Saharan students in addition to the helpline.

• Security in the neighbourhoods where international students reside should be strengthened. Police and security services must be more vigilant to protect international students from any form of aggression.

• Orientation programmes should be put in place to help Sub-Saharan students adapt to their new environment. Sub-Saharan students should be informed about the cultural, social and administrative aspects of the country and the rights and duties of foreign students.

• Encouraging cultural exchanges between Tunisian and international students in order to promote mutual understanding and strengthen the bonds of friendship. Cultural activities, sports events and language exchanges are all initiatives that can contribute to strengthening the links between Tunisian and international students; and

• Building the capacity of the bodies responsible for protecting the rights of foreign students.

According to Mabrouk, protecting the rights of Sub-Saharan students required the involvement of several actors in Tunisia.

“We must, therefore, continue to monitor the situation closely and work together to improve the living and studying conditions of African students in Tunisia,” he said.