Criminalization of refugees: the dark side of EU and UNHCR policies in Tunisia

UN agencies for protection or apparatuses for denial of rights?

On Thursday, 14th of April, 18 refugees were arrested by security forces in the Tunisian capital of Tunis. The arrests took place after a group of 210 people expressed their frustration with the unresponsiveness of the UNHCR, and decided to transfer their protest to the agency’s headquarters located in Tunis.

The decision of moving the protest came after the group had a sit-in for over two months in front of the UNHCR’s office in Zarzis following the agency’s newly-adopted undeclared policy of closing many dorms sheltering refugees and asylum seekers and reducing the number of residents, and pushing many of them to leave in exchange of alternatives that do not live up to the minimum living standards and people on the move expectations due to “absence of financial support” as the agency declared earlier this year.

While the group of 18 detained was later released on the 15th of April, many women, men, and children, are still being denied the right of movement within the land transport station of Zarzis. This incident stands as a standing proof of the inadequacy of the agency, whose only response to the migrants sitting-in for months in undignified conditions was through the suspension of its services and shutting all doors in their faces, while answering their demands in an inhumane and disrespectful way, stating “we are not a travelling agency”.

The UN Agency announced the suspension of its services to refugees and asylum seekers for the 18th and the 19th of April 2022 in response to their protest. Refugees and asylum seekers want an enabling environment where their rights are respected. Regardless of their demands’ merits, the closing doors policy in the face of the ordeal of men, children and women seeking refuge and being left to live in the open for extended periods does not achieve “raising awareness of the suffering of refugees, defending their rights, and coordinating efforts to support them.”

The Signatory “actors”:

– Stand in solidarity with the refugees struggling and protesting for their rights and dignity
– Hold the UNHCR responsible of the escalating situation caused by the absence of dialogue with refugees and asylum seekers and deepened by the closing doors policy in addition to resort to provocative statements
– Consider that the performance of the Agency in Tunisia, and in the governorate of Medenin in particular, such as the lack of appropriate assistance delivery to refugees and asylum seekers, slow files processing, and other shortcomings related to access to basic services such as health care, education, legal support, livelihoods, and financial, psychological, and social support, contributed to deepening the precarious situation of refugees and asylum seekers, especially women and children.
– Strongly condemn the externalization policies by which the EU tries to keep refugees away from its borders, and where the UNHCR is more assiduous in protecting EU interests rather than refugees’ rights.


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الرابطة التونسية للدفاع عن حقوق اإلنسان
المنتدى التونسي للحقوق االقتصادية واالجتماعية
الجمعية التونسية للنساء الديمقراطيات
الجمعية التونسية للدفاع عن الحريات الفردية
مبادرة موجودين
اتحاد التونسيين من اجل العمل المواطني
فيدرالية التونسيين للمواطنة بين الضفتين
جمعية وشم
جمعية تفعيل الحق في االختالف
ال سالم دون عدالة
جمعية يقظة من أجل الديمقراطية والدولة المدنية
اللجنة من اجل الحريات واحترام حقوق االنسان بتونس
دمج الجمعية التونسية للعدالة و المساواة
الجمعية التونسية من أجل الحقوق و الحريات
جمعية ابصار
المنظمة التونسية لمناهضة التعذيب
جمعية تقاطع من أجل الحقوق والحريات
جمعية By Le7wem
الجمعية التونسية لالنصاف والعدالة االجتماعية والكرامة اإلنسانية ”باسطا“
الجمعية التونسية لمساندة األقليات
جمعية المواطنة والتنمية والثقافات والهجرة بالضفتين
جمعية رؤية حرة
لجنة اليقظة من أجل الديمقراطية في تونس ببلجيكا
الجمعية التونسية للدفاع عن الحق في الصحة