Since the early 2000s the number of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia has been increasing. Official statistics show that between 2004 and 2014 the number of non-Tunisian nationals residing in Tunisia increased by 66%, passing from 35,192 to 53,490 individuals. This excludes, however, the more than 10,000 sub-Saharan migrants in an irregular situation estimated to be living in the country, on whom no reliable and up-to-date statistics are available. Furthermore, between 2016 and 2017 the number of sub-Saharan nationals who were apprehended off the Tunisian coast in an attempt to reach Europe by boat rose from 71 to 271 individuals. While figures on sub-Saharan African apprehensions have remained low overall, the question has arisen whether Tunisia is becoming an increasingly popular destination and transit country for sub-Saharan migrants in the North African region, especially considering the recent developments in Libya and the increase in irregular departures of sub-Saharan and Tunisian migrants to Europe.
In response to the lack of information on sub-Saharan African migration to Tunisia and its most recent dynamics, REACH and Mercy Corps conducted the study ‘Tunisia, country of transit and destination for sub-Saharan African migrants’. Data collection activities took place from 9 August to 2 September 2018 in Tunis, Sfax and Medenine, known for being the three main migration hubs in Tunisia for sub-Saharan migrants. The report also contains reference to data collected by the Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) in 2017 in Tunisia and analysed by REACH. The study aims to analyse the following dimensions of sub-Saharan migration to Tunisia: (1) migration drivers, (2) routes, (3) protection risks faced while en route and (4) living conditions in Tunisia, as well as (5) migratory intentions and (6) mobility to and from Tunisia’s neighbouring countries of sub-Saharan African migrants.
With the aim to shed light on these dynamics, the present study, based on 62 in-depth qualitative individual interviews with male and female sub-Saharan migrants, 18 key informant interviews with researchers, NGO and IGO staff and 7 focus group discussions with male and female sub-Saharan migrants in Tunis, Sfax and Medenine found that:
What are the drivers of sub-Saharan African migrants’ decisions to go to Tunisia?
Respondents’ reasons to leave their country of origin were multi-faceted and overlapping. Factors that shaped the decision to leave were mostly associated with the perception of not being able to realise their objectives back home, be it in terms of sustainable livelihoods, higher education or other aspirations. For one in ten respondents, studying or working in Tunisia was also perceived as facilitating future onward movement, by providing the right skillset or financial means, which would increase their chances of being granted a visa for other countries.
Institutional factors, such as visa exemptions, made Tunisia an accessible destination, while information about the living conditions there, channeled through personal networks, shaped respondents’ image of Tunisia as an attractive destination. Information received prior to departure had a strong impact on migrants’ decision-making to come to Tunisia, even though information shared reportedly often did not correspond to the situation respondents found once in Tunisia.
Most respondents interviewed aimed to reach Tunisia when they left home, with only a few coming to Tunisia with the intention to transit to Europe or elsewhere in the region. Those who came to Tunisia with the intention to transit to Europe had either: (1) previously transited through Libya to reach Europe from there and then crossed into Tunisia, (2) had tried to reach Libya from Tunisia to then leave via boat to Italy but did not succeed, or (3) intended to apply for a European visa from Tunisia.