Tunis, Tunisia – Nikki Yanga left the Democratic Republic of Congo for Tunisia five months ago, dreaming of a better life.
There was the option of working in Tunisia itself, or using the North African country as a springboard to travel to Europe, as many migrants and refugees have done in the past.
Those dreams have now been turned on their head. Instead, her only hope is that she can get back home, away from a rising tide of racism in Tunisia that has come after anti-migrant statements by President Kais Saied.
Yanga spoke to Al Jazeera from outside the Congolese embassy as she waited anxiously to hear if she had been approved for voluntary repatriation, a return to a country she had left after her father’s death.
“There was nothing left for me in the DR Congo; I heard that Tunisia is a beautiful and tolerant country, so I decided to travel,” explains Yanga.
With some friends, Yanga says she traveled overland three months ago, traveling through several countries, before crossing the border from Algeria into Tunisia with a group of sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees, aided by a human smuggler.
“We were about 20 people from DR Congo, Guinea and Ivory Coast and I paid 250 euros to the smuggler,” Yanga said.
However, her plans soon fell apart, as she could not find a job and, without money, could not buy enough food or rent a house.
“Every day I was looking for work or someone to help me find a place to stay… (but) I was constantly harassed by the police,” Yanga said.
Yanga said her life in Tunisia has gradually deteriorated, especially after President Saied’s February 21 remarks at the country’s National Security Council, in which he said migration from sub-Saharan Africa aimed to change Tunisia’s national identity.
“The undeclared aim of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to see Tunisia as a purely African country with no ties to the Arab and Muslim nations,” said Saied, who has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn since he suspended parliament and dissolved the government in July 2021. , said.
He added that undocumented immigration to Tunisia had led to violence and crime and that it must end quickly.
Official figures show that there are about 21,000 undocumented Africans in Tunisia.
Those comments, and Saied’s rhetoric since then, have been denounced by opponents of the president and the African Union, sparking what has been described by advocacy groups as a racist backlash against sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia , as well as against black Tunisians. , especially on social media.
The far-right Tunisian National Party has also led a campaign calling for the expulsion of sub-Saharan African immigrants. parallels the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory of far-right Europe, which argues that immigration from Africa and Asia is intended to replace white people in Europe.
Migrants and refugees have used social media to show the ramifications of some of that rhetoric.
Videos show physical attacks on the people themselves, as well as on their homes.
However, Tunisian security forces appear to be targeting the migrants themselves rather than the perpetrators of the attacks.
About 800 Sub-Saharan Africans have been arrested, according to Avocats Sans Frontières, an advocacy group. Others have been evicted from their rental properties or lost their jobs.
Yanga herself says she has since been attacked by two men who took a bag containing her passport.
“The attack took place a few days after the Tunisian president spoke,” Yanga said. “His speech was incendiary against us, and the results are starting to show.”
With an ongoing security check for illegal immigration, and afraid of being locked up because of her immigration status, Yanga says she did not go to the police after the attack.
Instead, she hopes DR Congo will follow in the footsteps of other African countries, such as Guinea and Ivory Coast, to bring her home.