Many Sub-saharan African workers in Tunisia have said expressed happiness to find employment. Kui Kadi is one such economic migrant. He arrived in Tunis at the beginning of 2018.
“Job opportunities are not available to everyone, I came from Ivory Coast, almost a year ago and thank God I could find work here at the gas station” Kadi says.
There are plenty of cars and trucks stopping by to fill-up along a main road in the heart of Tunis. Customers are plenty and in times when Tunisia is facing a shortage of workers, many from sub-Saharan Africa are stepping in to fill the gap.
Taloo Kadi also works at a petrol station. “Before I came here they told me that Tunisia is a difficult country. But I’m very respected by the owner of the station and earn my living, life is good,” she says.
Migrants are often recruited for jobs in construction, cafes and restaurants in Tunisia. But as many came illegally, they don’t benefit from employment rights leaving some unscrupulous employers to exploit that vulnerability.
Petrol station owner Jilani Ben Rhouma says workers just want to be treated fairly.
“It is not unusual for Tunisians not to pay what they owe to African workers,” he says.
These workers are not asking for extra money but only for the work they do. “If they agree with someone on a certain amount, they will not ask you to add more and do not want to be paid less than what they agreed on.”
Conditions of entry to Tunisia are very strict. Illegal migrants can be expelled and penalties can be imposed on Tunisians if they harbour foreigners illegally.
All foreigners entering Tunisia are subject to a law dating back to 1968. The law provides a number of conditions for employment in the north African country and for obtaining temporary or permanent residence permits.
For Valentin Bonnefoy, who works for the Tunisian Economic and Social Forum, Tunisian law is not fit for purpose. “Tunisian law does not protect sub-Saharan African workers or foreigners in general,” he says.
“Tunisia must work on the enactment of a new immigration law, and it is working on it. This law gives a new image of Tunisia after the dictatorship.”
For now, African workers continue to fill in the gap of Tunisian labour market and hope the law can give them full protection from exploitation.