TUNISIA

Tunisian revolution unleashes wave of illegal migrants

 The recent wave of political unrest in the Middle East has had a direct impact on North African immigration into Europe. In the past week alone, over 5,000 Tunisians have left their homes to set foot on the Italian island of Lampedusa — a traditional Mediterranean gateway to Europe.

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The recent wave of political unrest in the Middle East has had a direct impact on North African immigration into Europe. In the past week alone, over 5,000 Tunisians have left their homes to set foot on the Italian island of Lampedusa — a traditional Mediterranean gateway to Europe.

 

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali  was the president of Tunisia from 1987 until his sudden resignation on January 14. His ouster was precipitated by the self-immolation of  a black market vegetable salesman last December, which sparked four weeks of continuous protests.

 

Only a thin 138 km maritime strip separates Lampedusa from Tunisia’s northernmost tip. Until recently, this sea stretch had been under strict surveillance. But with the ouster of Ben Ali and his government, border security appears to have become somewhat more lax, paving the way for possible new waves of illegal migration towards Europe.

"We were surprised to learn of my brother’s departure, but we’re not sad"

Sassiya Abdelkrim, 28, shop owner in Zarzis. His brother left on February 7 for Lampedusa.

 

My brother called us just before landing in Lampedusa. He was so happy and we could hear the other travellers chanting in the background. We were surprised to learn of my brother’s departure, but we’re not sad. He’ll have a better life there.

 

My brother used to work in the hotel industry in Djerba. He had a respectable job but with the revolution, tourists are avoiding Tunisia as a vacation spot altogether. He saw many of his friends leaving and that convinced him to do the same.

 

After the recent turn of events, youths feel free to do anything and everything in their power. Europe once seemed like a faraway land to them. Now, Tunisians feel like they can go work and study in Europe. It’s understandable”.

 

“I try to explain to my husband’s family that you don’t necessarily live a better life in France”

Frenchwoman currently living in Zarzis, a coastal town in southern Tunisia.

 

In the city of Zarzis, youths have completely deserted the streets. Café terraces are empty and you rarely see young people out anymore. They have only one goal in mind: to take advantage of the current situation and head to Italy.

 

I live 300 kilometres from the beach next to the port, which is the largest point of departure for illegal immigrants. The video you see below shows dozens of people climbing atop trucks to board boats heading towards Italy. I witnessed this from my house.

 

Immigration seekers jump on a truck that will take them to the port for departure.

 

 

"The few remaining soldiers don’t do anything to stop this exodus because they’re afraid the people will turn against them".

Illegal immigrants used to have to go through Libya [in order to travel illegally into Italy]. Now, they can leave directly from here. The journey costs 2,000 dinars (1,036 Euros). There are barely any police officers left and the few remaining soldiers don’t do anything to stop this exodus because they’re afraid the people will turn against them.

 

Here in Zarzis, there’s this continuing obsession with living the European dream. Many members of my husband’s family have already left and they’re not poor nor are they unemployed.

 

I try to explain to them that you don’t necessarily live a better life in France, which is everyone’s desired final destination. But, all they see is a pay check. They say that even if they only make 1,500 euros in Paris, it’s still ten times more than they’ll ever make here. They don’t really understand the cost of living in France”.

 

Smugglers count the money paid by would-be migrants. The person in the clip mocks the situation at hand saying "Is this the Italian consulate or what"?