Tunisia Tries to Help Migrants Avoid Slavery

Trying to prevent modern slavery, a Tunisian anti-trafficking body has last week released information cards intending to educate the increased number of human trafficking victims coming from or passing through the country about their rights.

Migrants BoatTunisian migrants increasingly “self-smuggle” - traveling independently of hired smugglers. (Photo: vfutscher, Flickr, License)The “Instance nationale de lutte contre la traite de personnes” (The National Anti-Human Trafficking Body) listed on the cards the rights guaranteed by Tunisian law as well as addresses and phone numbers of institutions the victims can turn to for help.  The project was launched in cooperation with the Council of Europe.

The move came after the EU’s border management agency announced that the proportion of arrivals from Tunisia into the EU surged in 2020. FRONTEX, the EU’s border agency, stated that while detections of illegal border crossings into the EU fell by 13% to around 124,000 last year, hitting their lowest point since 2013, the use of routes through the Central Mediterranean and Tunisia have spiked. 

The number of irregular arrivals taking the Central Mediterranean route in 2020 almost tripled to over 35,600 people, while Tunisian nationals were the third most common irregular arrivals at external EU borders and the most common nationality arriving in Italy

Tunisian migration initially surged after the 2011 Arab Spring, but steadily dropped in later years. However, since 2016, it has picked up again, with the proportion of boats arriving in Italy from Tunisia measured at 5% in 2017, 22% in 2018 and 32% in 2019, 70% of which are migrants of Tunisian nationality, according to a report by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Matt Herbert, research manager for the Global Initiative’s North Africa and Sahel Observatory, attributes the renewed human flows to a combination of foreign migrants transiting through Tunisia to avoid conflict-affected Libya and Algeria, and because of economic pressure pushing both Tunisians and foreign migrants living in Tunisia to emigrate. 

Attempts at attributing this increase on human traffickers may therefore be disingenuous.

There is “little indication that migration is rising due to heightened availability of smugglers. In contrast, a growing trend in Tunisia is 'self-smuggling', where [Tunisians] pool their money and buy boats [to] depart autonomously for Europe,” Herbert told OCCRP.

This means that “addressing such departures can't focus on arresting smugglers alone. Rather there is a need to focus on the deep drivers of migration and seek to address those,” he said.