‘I feel like I am living in a prison here’ – Student

Students from Sub-Saharan African countries in Tunisia say that they are being discriminated against in the country’s banks and post offices, preventing them from receiving international money transfers to pay for essentials, including food.

They and executives of the Association for African Students and Interns in Tunisia (AESAT – Association des Étudiants et Stagiaires Africains en Tunisie) told University World News that many banks and branches of La Poste Tunisienne are refusing to hand over the money sent by their parents and blocking them from opening personal bank accounts if they lack a full residency permit – a carte de séjour définitif.

The Tunisian government has been slow to issue these documents to students, who told University World News this is causing serious financial hardship and, in some cases, preventing them from buying food and drink.

Black African students say these administrative problems are evidence of widespread and institutionalised racism they have experienced since arriving in Tunisia, including when racial violence followed President Kais Saied’s call in February for “urgent measures” to counter what he called “hordes” of Sub-Saharan migrants.

Students’ experiences

Speaking to University World News, a 25-year-old Malian commerce stagiaire, or intern, explained her struggles with government services: “I notice the attitude of the administration staff is if you only speak French [Tunisia’s second language – like Mali, the country was once controlled by France], they become frustrated with you and are difficult.

“I found if I speak just a little bit of Arabic their attitude towards me softens a little.” But still, after more than two years in Tunisia, she has yet to receive the full carte de sejour definitive.

She says that this has caused many problems, especially in receiving her grant money: “Most banks refuse to give Western Union payments,” she said, although receiving “Moneygram is better”.

Also, with Mali currently on the grey-list of global anti-money laundering institution the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, “I can only pick up small amounts of money at a time.

“The only place I can pick up cash is from the post office in the airport, which is a long way from where I live, so I have to pay for a long taxi ride there and back,” said the student.

A 20-year-old Côte d’Ivoire intern, training to be an automotive mechanic had a similar story to tell: “I applied for my card in April 2021 after I started my course, and I’ve never received the definitive card. They keep telling me it is not ready and to come back.” As a result: “I’ve been arrested twice by police and taken to the police station for not having the definitive card.”

The Malian commerce student said such arrests are very damaging for black African students: “It really affects you psychologically. People see you being arrested – they don’t know why, and assume you are a thief or something.”

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