Tunisia has historically been a country of emigration. Since Tunisia’s independence in 1956, both presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali encouraged Tunisian workers to migrate.
In parallel, the EU started implementing measures to tackle irregular migration through a visa system and restrictive border control policies. At the start of the 21st century, Tunisia adopted a hard stance on irregular migration to comply with European policies. Therefore, until the Jasmine Revolution in 2011, irregular migration by sea from Tunisia to Italy was contained but never fully stopped. Following the Revolution, the decrease in border control triggered a new peak in irregular migration. In the days following the Revolution, thousands of Tunisians left the shores and from January to September 2011, 42 807 people were recorded as entering Italy irregularly by sea.
While overall irregular boat arrivals via the Mediterranean sea to Italy have decreased over the last three years, the number of Tunisians reaching Italy irregularly via boat has conversely skyrocketed. As of 30 April 2018, Tunisians are the 1st most represented nationality (1,910) amongst new sea arrivals to Italy. This represents a significant shift to previous years: according to the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES), in 2016, only 833 Tunisians went to Italy in an irregular way. In 2017, 6151 Tunisians reached Italy, which is 6 times more than in 2016. Yet, in 2017, the number of Tunisians only accounted for 5% of the total number of people coming by sea to Italy in an irregular way.