Tunisian police used tear gas on Tuesday to disperse about 100 African asylum seekers and migrants who had been camping outside the headquarters of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in the capital, Tunis for some 25 days.
In an open letter, the group from 15 sub-Saharan countries said they had “taken refuge” near the building after being “chased out” of several Tunisian cities following a February speech by President Kais Saied slamming illegal immigration.
But local residents were not happy with their presence saying they were “blocking the passage” and that people could “no longer leave their homes”.
“This is a big problem because when they gather like this they feel stronger, they feel safe and they don’t fear the police,” said resident Elyes Ben Zakour.
“They don’t care about people or women, they don’t respect the elderly or the young They don’t care about anything. If you pass by here, they can hit you and tell you to leave,” he said.
Malian asylum seeker, Famoussa Koita, said he had received his status and had done his resettlement interview, but that others were increasingly frustrated over the long wait for their cases to be dealt with by the UN agency.
“There are others like me who have been here for more than two or three years and they have not been summoned. This is due to the application procedures,” he said.
Koita added that the UNHCR could not deal with all them and so it was up to the asylum seekers to “understand that there are a lot of applications and they can’t be processed all at the same time”.
On 3 April, the agency in Tunisia announced on its Facebook page that it had stopped “all registration and pre-registration activities from 31 March to 17 April due to a migration of the registration and identity system”.
This “temporary” suspension concerned “all UNHCR operations worldwide”.
An Africanewsguru.com reporter at the scene said that after the migrants were dispersed, they saw that surveillance cameras and windows at the UN building had been smashed.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Tunisian Interior Ministry, Faker Bouzghaya, told Africanewsguru.com that the police had intervened “at the request of the UNHCR” and that 80 migrants had been arrested, 30 of whom were taken into custody.