El Amra: from olive trees to sea crossing

The Tunisian village that everyone wants to leave

The EU is trying to outsource its migration problem, and Tunisia is considered a new partner. But the situation there is becoming more and more unbearable: not only the African refugees want to leave, but also the locals.

Tunisia has long been considered comparatively safe for migrants from southern Africa. While they were locked up in prisons and tortured by criminal groups in Libya and abandoned in the desert in Algeria, they had the opportunity to work here, albeit mostly in low-wage jobs. But now the situation in Tunisia has also deteriorated drastically, and the government itself is fueling hatred towards refugees. At the same time, many Tunisians want to leave the country due to the political crisis and economic situation. The EU is still relying on close cooperation with the state to stop migration - even though the country is currently slipping back towards dictatorship.
On February 21st this year, Tunisian President Kais Saied gave a speech using the conspiracy narrative that African migrants want to destroy Arab culture. It didn't take long before the first attacks on refugees began. The death of a Tunisian, allegedly stabbed by perpetrators from Cameroon in July, ultimately led to escalation: hundreds of people from sub-Saharan Africa were expelled from Sfax, many ending up in the olive fields of El Amra" - 6,000 permanent residents, and around 10,000 people from Sub Saharan countries. They mainly dominate the landscape, in town, begging for water on the roads, sleeping in the olive fields.
In September the government packed all refugees into buses to quickly declare the city “migrant-free.” The problems were simply outsourced to the fishing village of El Amra north of Sfax, where the people were dumped. 18-year old Nyabiey Tut was also on one of these buses. The olive field has been her home ever since. “My biggest worry is that my baby will be born out here,” she says, “the thought of that breaks my heart.

Our complete recent reportage from El Amra, Sfax, Tunisia, on assignment for Der Spiegel. Words by Heiner Hoffmann.