May 24. 2024. 5:27

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World Bank to pause discussions with Tunisia following president’s remarks on Black Africans

The World Bank has said it will pause discussions about engagement with Tunisia, following criticisms of the treatment of Black Africans there and reports of growing repression by the North African country’s president.

On February 21st President Kais Saied claimed that the arrival of Black Africans into the country is a “criminal” plan aimed at changing Tunisia’s demographics. In the aftermath, Black Africans went into hiding, as there were reports of violence, evictions, arrests and other abuses against them. There are estimated to be about 21,000 Sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia.

In a message to staff, which was seen by news agency AFP, World Bank president David Malpass said Mr Saied’s words had led to “racially motivated harassment and even violence”.

“Given the situation, management has decided to pause the Country Partnership Framework and withdraw it from board review,” he said.

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The World Bank has been a major donor to Tunisia as the government seeks an International Monetary Fund bailout.

On Monday, US state department spokesman Ned Price said the US government is also “deeply concerned”.

“We urge Tunisian authorities to meet their obligations under international law to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants,” he said.

On Sunday, the Tunisian government announced some concessions to help Black Africans who may be in danger, including a hotline where they can report rights violations and residence cards for students. Also on Sunday, Mr Saied said he denounced racism and indicated legal consequences for those carrying out abuses. He also announced a relaxation of visa rules.

The African Union issued a statement against Mr Saied’s comments on February 24th, with chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat saying he strongly condemned “the shocking statement issued by Tunisian authorities targeting fellow Africans which go against the letter and spirit of our organisation and founding principles.” The union also postponed a conference on illicit finance flows, which was due to take place next week.

This week, European Commission spokesperson Nabila Massrali said: “We expect all of our partners to treat migrants with dignity. We don’t want to hear racist hate speech.”

Africans from other countries have been camping outside their embassies in Tunisia, or outside the UN’s International Organisation for Migration, appealing for help. Hundreds have been flown back to Ivory Coast, Mali, and Guinea.

. On Monday, Senegalese players pointed to their skin after they defeated Tunisia at an Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations match in Egypt.

Monica Marks, an assistant professor at New York University Abu Dhabi, who is based in the Tunisian capital Tunis, last week told The Irish Times that this has been a “terrorising time for Black immigrants”.

“A lot of them live here legally. A lot of them are students,” she said. “Some, of course, don’t have papers, but a lot of white people who live in Tunisia for years also don’t have formal papers ... White immigrants, expats who live here for years on end on just tourist visas, are not being rounded up or evicted from their homes or beaten in the streets.”