Urban voices – Angélique:
“Our relationship with Tunisians has improved over the last two years”

The following story was originally compiled for the Mixed Migration Review 2020 and has been reproduced here for wider access through this website’s readership.[1]

Money was a factor, but the main reason I left Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) was political. Just after the last war, we started being tracked by the new government. As I was affiliated with the party of the previous president, we had meetings in our neighbourhood to discuss politics, like everyone. But when the new president came with his militias, they started attacking us. The father of a friend has disappeared for that reason. I had to move out of my neighbourhood, and then in the end, out of the country. I came directly from Ivory Coast to Tunisia by plane as Ivorians have visa-free access to this country.

I was very badly treated by the owner the supermarket I worked in. This was in Sfax, the first place in Tunisia I came to. I first worked without documents and I had to accept every opportunity I could find. While Tunisians in the supermarket constantly had breaks and were allowed many things, I was told to continue working and could not even take a lunch break. Later, I moved to Tunis after a Frenchman offered me cleaning work here.

Since I arrived in Tunisia, both my parents became ill and died, my mother died during lockdown. This was very hard financially and it has broken me. I always had to send money home to make sure they were taken care of in the hospital.

I am fine here; I live comfortably now. I live in La Marsa. There are a lot of other refugees and migrants, especially Ivorians, but also some Malians and Burkinabe. I have met a lot of people. The Ivorians are known for occupying a whole neighbourhood and creating their lifestyle there. They do their activities and sell their spices, like at home.

I had a problem with the Ivorian embassy here. It created issues for my safety. After, I went to see UNHCR and I applied for asylum. I now have my status document and I can stay here and be calm, without even having to think about making a dangerous move to somewhere else.

Having documents makes a big difference in so many ways. Everything has become easier. That is really all you need here to feel safe and included. I can now move freely, and I have more access to jobs, especially in restaurants, and also to health facilities. Before, I had to ask the assistance of NGOs to make sure I was given access in a hospital. Without being regularised, access is not guaranteed.

For those without documentation, it is a totally different situation. They will have to accept any kind of job, and it is hard for them to feel comfortable in this city.

Still, there are many risks for us here, especially rape and sexual violence. This can also happen in work environments, like when you are asked to clean somewhere, and you only find the man (with the rest of the family gone). It is often during the day, so if you make noise, he will probably leave you alone, but still it is a big risk for us. There are also robberies, carried out by youngsters who break into your house. In some neighbourhoods, particularly in Bhar Lazreg, there is a multitude of risks and problems. We now face the fact that both Tunisian and Ivorian groups there are involved in crime. This was not the case before.

While before we felt like we could not go to the police, this has become better. We now go there and report that men tried to rape us, for example, and that there was a lack of respect towards us, sub-Saharan women.

Our relationship with Tunisians has improved over the last two years. I easily communicate with Tunisians nowadays. Back then, I was often discriminated and once physically attacked by groups of younger Tunisians on the streets. There would be adults around, but they would not say anything and just let it happen. They were throwing stones so big that we had to run fast.

Discrimination and racism happened all the time. The change I see now is when we experience this again, there is often an older brother or a parent who comes to help you. This did not happen before. Tunisia has been criticised harshly over racism, and I think that has sunken in.

The local authorities and the Tunisians here in La Marsa have made us feel included. During the lockdown, we lost everything and could not save any money. But the municipality supported us by handing out food boxes. It had everything inside. There was a lot of solidarity from the Tunisians here. I felt like during lockdown there was a sudden change in mentality. We experienced a lot of spontaneous initiatives from their side.

Eventually, I would like to open a shop here and have my own business. Maybe I can open the shop in 2021, and then stay until 2022. I want to stay based in Tunis, but with going back and forth to Abidjan.

[1] ‘Urban Voices’ presents seven stories from migrants and refugees living in cities drawn from detailed individual interviews conducted by MMC. They often illustrate the non-linear nature of so many migrant and refugee journeys – characterised by the twists and turns in many migrants’ erratic lives. They serve to offer evidence towards a new concept recently introduced in migration studies of circumstantial migration to describe how “migration trajectories and experiences unfold in unpredictable ways under the influence of micro-level context and coincidence.” [Carling, J. and Haugen (2020) Circumstantial migration: how Gambian journeys to China enrich migration theory. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.] MMC did not record the names of respondents and all names in this ‘urban voices’ series are aliases.