According to a new report, irregular emigration from Tunisia is on the rise | Credit: ANSA/REACH/Mercy Corps
According to a new report, irregular emigration from Tunisia is on the rise | Credit: ANSA/REACH/Mercy Corps

In 2018, more than 5,000 Tunisians left their home country for Italy alone. A new study found that Tunisia experienced a new peak of irregular emigration starting in the second half of 2017.

The last great migratory wave of Tunisians departing for Europe was seen in 2011, on the heels of the revolution that marked the start of the Arab Spring. In the span of just a few months, 20,000 people left the country for Europe. Now, seven years later, Tunisia is experiencing a new wave of emigration. In 2018, Tunisians were the largest national group among the migrants who arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean: 23 percent of all arriving migrants (5,244 total) were from Tunisia.

A new report by NGOs REACH and Mercy Corps titled "Tunisia, Country of Emigration and Return," looked at why people left Tunisia between 2011 and 2018 – and what they experienced during and after their journey to Europe. The report's finding are based on individual interviews and group discussions with Tunisian emigrants who returned to the country through assisted voluntary return programs or who were deported.

The main reasons for leaving mentioned by the interviewees were a lack of job opportunities at home and the hope of better living standards in Europe. The study found, however, that many migrants faced the same challenges that forced them to leave their country of origin in Europe.

Over 50 percent said they can't legally get to Europe

Almost all of those interviewed said they knew what the regular and official ways to reach Europe were. However, more than half of them said they had no other choice than to emigrate irregularly. About one-fifth had applied for a visa, but decided to emigrate irregularly after their visa request was denied.

The main destination country for those interviewed was Italy – likely due to its proximity to Tunisia. The trip from the northern Tunisian coast to Italy is roughly 200 kilometers long, whereas Spain and Greece are located almost 1,000 kilometers from Tunesia.

Many of the surveyed migrants faced traumatic experiences and hardships during their journey – and after they got to their destinations. Less than one-quarter of those interviewed said they had been legally hired, and nearly half of those interviewed said they had been involved in minor crimes.

Even after reaching Europe, those interviewed said they had difficulty meeting their basic needs, such as housing and food. 

Those who were deported said they had a very limited amount of time to prepare for their return. Two-thirds of those interviewed said they were notified on the same day that the deportation took place.

Economic difficulties key factor in emigration

The report found that socioeconomic factors – such as problems on the labor market – play a key role in why more people left Tunisia in 2017 and 2018. 

The authors said that when a migrant is deported to Tunisia, his or her journey is rarely over - they will likely attempt to emigrate again. Many of those interviewed said their return meant starting from scratch, and that they were ready to cross the sea again. One-third of those interviewed had already emigrated more than once.

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