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Dark times for Tunisians in France

November 25, 2016
tags:#France, #migration, #Terror, #Tunisians
by:Karima Doghrash
Tunisian migrants in France are experiencing repercussions after the Bastille Day attack in Nice in July this year.

This story was first published on Correspondents.

Anis is sat watching passers-by on Promenade des Anglais, a few meters away from where 84 people were run over and slaughtered with a truck on the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations in Nice this year. “I was with my roommate walking when suddenly we saw pedestrians running in panic in all directions,” Anis remembers. The killer that night was Mohamed Bouhlal, a Tunisian. Since then Anis, a 28-year-old illegal Tunisian migrant, and his co-nationals in France have lived with increased fear of repercussions.

Anis did not leave his house the next day. “I am an illegal migrant, so I feared that the police might arrest and deport me,” says Anis. Many Tunisians living illegally in France now share the same concern, especially following increased terrorist attacks carried out or planned by Tunisians. French authorities have since tightened security controls in anticipation of similar attacks.


After the Bastille Day truck attack, the extreme French right demanded the deportation of Tunisians on the grounds that they contribute to the dissemination of terror in France. Anis believes it is an expected response, denying any systematic racial acts suffered by Tunisians following the attack.

Nevertheless, Tunisians like Anis living illegally in France are finding it increasingly hard to have access to jobs. Many live in makeshift accommodation: abandoned houses in remote places, squats, half-erect buildings. Anis lives in a small room in Nice, which he shares with other Tunisians. “He is lucky because he has found a shelter,” says one of his friends.

French employers refuse to employ foreigners with no legal residency because it is against the law. Anis can therefore not find a permanent job although he came to France more than five years ago . “I failed in my studies and could not find a stable job back in Tunisia,” he says. “I worked in the furniture market in Mallasseen (a poor suburb of Tunis) for a low wage. This is why I came to France.”

Following the 2011 revolution, Tunisia saw a wave of illegal migration towards the shores of its former colonizer. Tens of thousands of young people illegally migrated to Italy and France across the sea. Anis is one of thousands of young Tunisians who migrated to Europe; hundreds of them drowned in the sea when their crowded boats sank.

Uphill struggle

More than ten years ago, Atef, a 35-year-old Tunisian, sailed from Nabeul Governorate, in northeastern Tunisia, towards Italy and then to France. He has found it difficult to adapt to his new surroundings. “Communicating with the French is difficult due to different customs and traditions,” says Atef.

Like many young people residing in France, Atef could not get a residence permit. “I have tried in every possible way to adjust my situation,” he says. “I resorted to courts, but to no avail. Since the terrorist events that took place in France, getting a residence permit has become very difficult.”

System breeds terror

Atef believes that the feelings of instability and inability to move freely affects how illegal migrants integrate. “Some become criminals, terrorists, drug addicts or alcoholics, while others even commit suicide,” he says.

Atef says having a relationship with a French girl is also not easy. “French girls have become afraid of having a relationship with any Arab young man because they are aware that he only wants to adjust his situation,” says Atef. He says he himself has tried to obtain a residence permit this way.

Another option for Atef is to return home. He has accumulated some savings he has been sending to his mother to build a house above hers in Tunisia. Yet the stigma of not returning with enough haunts him. "My friend will say I returned empty-handed," Atef told Correspondents.

Article written by:
Karima Doghrash
The killer in Nizza was Mohamed Bouhlal, a Tunisian. Since then Tunisian migrants are living with increased fear of repercussions.
After the Bastille Day truck attack, the extreme French right demanded the deportation of Tunisians on the grounds that they contribute to the dissemination of terror in France.
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