Local charity organizations in Tunisia’s south are helping migrants from other African countries to integrate. In the under-developed southern city of Medenine, the migrants are being taught how to sow.
Bintou is from Ivory Coast. She has gained an inner confidence thanks to sewing lessons offered at a day centre. The centre is run, by the Support of Migrants organization, an initiative by eight Tunisian medical outfits that offers support to mainly female migrants.
“When I am at this association, it is as if I were at home in Ivory Coast. And here when Zeineb (member of the coalition) sees us stressed, she organizes a small party, she puts on music, she invites us to dance and we laugh. We forget (our problems), it’s like that here”, Bintou said.
Bintou intends to stay, largely because “it is peaceful,” even if as she says she sometimes suffers racism and harassment.
In the front row of a small classroom, three women, all different nationalities, learn French. This is also thanks to the umbrella of eight Tunisian medical charities in a wider North Africa region, often far from welcoming.
”When we saw the increasing number of migrants, we said to ourselves why not create a structure that brings us all together and helps these migrants who are in our region? This is sort of what led us to create the Coalition of Humanitarian Associations of Medenine”, said Abdallah Saïd, president of the Coalition of Humanitarian Associations of Medenine.
Over the last decade, the number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa arriving in Tunisia has grown substantially.
They range from foreign workers displaced from Libya, to asylum seekers and new immigrants looking for work in Tunisia.
“We have very limited resources and we do not even have the means to support associations that work with migrants or asylum seekers. What we do to help associations is at the level of logistics with offering spaces that belong to the municipality (for their use). This is what we are working on with the associations”, said Moncef Ben Yemma, Mayor of Médenine.
In the last six months alone, 1,000 people who embarked from Libya to Europe have been picked up in Mediterranean waters by Tunisian vessels, and ended up in the country, according to the International Organization for Migration.
This weekend, the peril of such crossings was the focus when over 60 migrants disappeared or died as two boats sank in less than 72 hours off Tunisia.
With the country mired in an economic crisis that leaves it unable to meet the needs of its own citizens, migrants are low on the list of political priorities.
Two reception centres managed by UN agencies were established in Medenine in 2014 and 2015, but were quickly overwhelmed.
These limitations prompted the Organization for the Support of Migrants to form and move into action.