Paris (CNSNews.com) – The World Bank is suspending its partnership with Tunisia until further notice in response to remarks by President Kais Saied blaming migrants from sub-Saharan Africa for “violence, crimes, and unacceptable acts” in his country.
“Public comments that stir up discrimination, attacks and racist violence are completely unacceptable,” World Bank president David Malpass said in an internal letter leaked to media.
The move is the latest fallout over a controversial speech by Saied to the Tunisian national security council at the end of last month.
Saied ordered the expulsion of illegal migrants and reportedly said that an increase in migration into the North African country was part of a plot to change its demographics.
“A criminal plan had been prepared since the beginning of this century to transform the demographic composition of Tunisia,” he said, referring to an effort to “transform Tunisia into an African-only country and blur its Arab-Muslim character.”
Amid reports of an uptick in violence against migrants in Tunisia, national human rights and other civil society groups have accused the president of racism, and the U.S. State Department also expressed concern.
“These remarks are not in keeping with Tunisia’s long history of generosity and hosting and protecting refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, and we’re disturbed by reports of violence against these very migrants,” said spokesman Ned Price.
“We urge Tunisian authorities to meet their obligations under international law to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants,” Price said. “And we encourage Tunisian authorities to coordinate with international humanitarian organizations to facilitate the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of migrants who wish to return to their countries of origin.”
The African Union (AU) also criticized Saied’s statements, urging him to avoid “racialized hate speech.”
Vincent Geisser, a researcher at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research told the migration-focused news site InfoMigrants that Saied’s speech was linked to Tunisia’s political crisis.
“This speech does not come out of nowhere,” he said. “He accuses the opposition of being in the hands of foreigners and NGOs of working for foreign interests.”
According to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, at least 21,000 sub-Saharan African are in the country, most of whom are undocumented. Tunisia has an estimated population of 12 million.
Far-right French politician Eric Zemmour, a proponent of the so-called “Great Replacement” theory, welcomed Saied’s remarks.
“The Maghreb countries themselves are starting to sound the alarm in the face of the migratory surge,” Zemmour tweeted. “Here, it is Tunisia that wants to take urgent measures to protect its people. What are we waiting for to fight against the Great Replacement?”
(With its origins in the eugenics movement, the theory contends that there is a deliberate strategy to undermine the racial purity of European countries by encouraging mass migration and miscegenation.)
Illegal immigration, especially via Spain and Italy into France, is a hot topic in France, where many are opposed to the arrival of undocumented migrants. A new law aimed at regulating and deporting illegal migrants is due to be presented to both chambers of the legislature soon.
European Union countries have not reacted to Saied’s speech. E.U. migration policy seeks to pressurize North African countries to prevent illegal migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach the continent.
Tunisia’s North African neighbors have also remained silent. Morocco and Libya both struggle with sub-Saharan African migration. While some migrants stay there, many use the countries as springboards to try cross over to Europe.
Spain has two small enclaves on Morocco’s northern coast, Ceuta and Melilla, which are magnets for migrants, since they offer the only land border between Africa and the E.U. The borders are heavily guarded by Spanish and Moroccan police, but migrants regularly succeed in crossing over into Spanish territory.
Libya is another popular crossing point, as Tripoli is just 180 miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
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