State incompetence!

The issue of irregular migration has raged in Tunisia for years. This scourge is becoming more and more widespread and unfortunately seduces Tunisians of all ages and categories. Today, children, female officials and even pensioners choose to risk their lives and try to cross the Mediterranean on pseudo-boats. Faced with this, the state is content to count the boats arrested at sea and the bodies recovered. Going in search of a boat or shipwrecks doapparently no longer part of the competences of the Tunisian authorities. The drama that unfolded in Zarzis highlighted the state’s failure at all levels.

The disappearance of a secret boat departing from Zarzis took place on September 18, 2022, that is, for almost a month and took 18 Tunisian citizens with it. That day the weather was fine, the sea was calm, and the passengers were about to start a new life on the old continent. A few phone calls between the migrants and their relatives even took place. Unfortunately an hour later, nothing! No signal from them. This caused the families of the missing to sound the alarm. A couple of local fishermen were looking for the boat. Meanwhile, a rumor claiming the boat had capsized off the coast of Libya had circulated in the region. Some even claimed that the migrants had been picked up by Libyan forces and taken into custody. This news had calmed the inhabitants of the region and the families of the victims. It was, of course, only a rumor, which the Tunisian authorities were unable to confirm or deny. And this is how the Tunisians learned that the coast guards did not go in search of ships that disappeared at sea after a report from the parents of the persons in question.

During the previous days, some fishermen who had gone in search of migrants or others simply engaged in their economic activity began to discover a few bodies at sea. They informed the Tunisian authorities and some of them took pictures of the bodies floating in the middle of this blue expanse. Some bodies were discovered off Djerba, thus disproving the rumor of the detention of the castaways in Libya. This represented a point of no return for the residents of Zarzis and the relatives of the victims. They investigated and later discovered that other bodies had been found by local authorities during the same period. The bodies were officially classified as foreign migrants and were therefore buried in Africa’s seas.

This garden is a cemetery used to bury unknown migrants who died while crossing the Mediterranean. This garden had been created to contain the remains under very specific conditions. Dead bodies must undergo a medical examination, including DNA testing and identification of the country of origin. A photo, taken at sea by a fisherman, showing a body that have subsequently recovered by the Coast Guard, exposed the great scandal and the failure of the official authorities. The body had been buried in this garden. However, the mother of one of the participants in this crossing had identified him as being her son. The picture taken by the fisherman was of a corpse wearing the same shorts that the child had been wearing before the crossing. The same body had been buried in the African garden and local authorities insisted it was that of a foreigner. The inhabitants of the region and the families of the castaways would later discover that it was not an isolated incident, as no less than four dead people, suspected to be Tunisians, were recovered during the same period and buried in this cemetery.

Unfortunately, during these sad events, there was no intervention or don’t visit either press releases from the central authority or from one of the members of the current government. At the same time, the residents of Zarzis felt compelled to multiply demonstrations and block roads to force local and regional authorities to listen to them and respond to their demands. This led to a day of anger and a large demonstration in the heart of the city. Under pressure from local residents, the bodies have been exhumed and will undergo forensic testing to determine their origin. Meanwhile, and faced with the state’s failure and inability to deal with the crisis, the fishermen themselves organized research and inspection campaigns in several areas. They organized patrols and searched several areas. This allowed other corpses to be recovered.

For his part, the governor of Medenine, Saïd Ben Zayedconfirmed on several occasions that the burial of the corpses took place in accordance with the norms laid down. He also said that the state had deployed significant resources in the search for the shipwrecked, but without finding anything. IN considerationfished out the fishermen with their small trawlers eight corpses. The local population accuses the authorities of knowingly participating in the questionable burial of Tunisians in the African sea. The governor had put his signature on the documents that allowed the burial of these bodies without a DNA test and based on a simple report from a doctor. He also chose to arrange a meeting of the regional disaster management committee without informing anyone and 21 days after the boat’s disappearance. He had overruled the fishermen who had organized the search and recovered the bodies. Subsequently and during a visit on 14 October 2022, the Governor visited Zarzi’s delegation. He was received with criticism, shouting and stone throwing. He was removed by the protesters because of his statements and his attitude.

The situation continues to worsen in the city. Citizens are calling for and demanding explanations and more involvement from local but also central authorities. They emphasized the absence of ministerial visits. They launched an appeal to the President of the Republic, Kaïs Saidand asked him to visit them. The local people felt that their dead lived as strangers and were also buried as strangers. This case calls into question the credibility of the initiated process and relative the collection of corpses and their identification. For his part, the head of state seems to focus on what matters most to him: the revision of the electoral law and the fight against the famous speculators, whom no one has yet been able to identify.

Sophie Ghoubantini

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