Tunisian youth in the detention center of Lampedusa

« We have been struggling throughout our lives in Tunisia. The authorities there neither gave us jobs nor respect; we only get humiliation », Ahmed confided on the condition that we would not give his real name. Ahmed is now in Lampedusa. He and many others have been on a hunger strike since Saturday. « We started the hunger strike on Saturday…my friend started on Friday… we have been on water and sugar…if there is no solution we will not take water and sugar…and we will sleep outside the center » .

Ahmed told me that several boats carrying Tunisian youth mainly from Redeyef reached Lampedusa two weeks ago (October 16, 17 and 18). Currently, forced deportation is what the immigrants fear most. In response to these events, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) published a statement along with the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the Committee for the Respect of Freedom and Human Rights (CRLDHT) and EuroMed Rights. Another statement by the FTDES and the Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana (ARCI) also appeared on the FTDES website on October 31. On October 27, the Tunisian youth in Lampedusa issued a first letter, « Call on international public opinion » followed by « Letter number 2 » on October 31. In the absence of serious media coverage, the letters and statements have circulated mostly on Facebook pages.

In Redeyef, immigrants’ mothers gathered at the local UGTT office. Hatem Khlifi, civil society activist and FTDES member, was there on Sunday, October 29. Hatem told me that the mothers were protesting in support of their sons’ right to freedom of movement, as asserted in the Statement by Tunisian Youth. The mothers also denounced forced deportation measures and illegal immigration cooperation agreements between Italy and Tunisia.

Following Sunday’s protest, members of the UGTT office in Redeyef declared their support for the mothers of immigrants, and condemned the policies of forced deportation. On the possibility of being deported in the next few days and the reasons that pushed the youth of Redeyef to immigrate illegally, Ahmed told us: « We want the Italian authorities to give us the right to freedom of movement for one week only. It will be the chance of a lifetime. We will leave Italy within a week. If they find anyone after one week they can deport him. In Tunisia I could not afford to buy medicine when my mother was sick. You can work for 30 years in Tunisia and you will not achieve anything. Allah protected me in the sea and my mother was happy when I reached Italy. I thought that I would work here for at least four years then go back to Tunisia to help my family. What you cannot do in 30 years in Tunisia you can do it in four years in Europe. I want my parents to go to Haj. I want to pay back all that they sacrificed and that’s all. Why are the Tunisian state and the Minister trying to stop me? »

So many questions remain unanswered in post-revolutionary Tunisia. According to the FTDES, some surveys have “shown a growing desire for migration, even though illegal practices among almost half of the Tunisian youth ». Another study by the Forum states that « according to the IOM figures (International Organisation for Migrations), 2700 Tunisians succeeded to reach the Italian soil illegally from January to September 2017, 1400 of whom arrived in September 2017, which reveals an explosion” of irregular migration compared to the two past years, with a multiplication of 2.25 between 2016 and 2017 until September ».

No one knows how the story of Ahmed and the Tunisian youth from Redeyef and other cities will end. All we know for now is that they are facing social marginalization at home, and forced deportation abroad.