Irregular emigration from Tunisia[...] and the issue of those missing
Irregular emigration from Tunisia to the Italian coast, known in Tunisia as harga, developed during the early 1990's, when Italy, having ratified the Schengen Agreement, began demanding entry visas for Tunisian nationals. Tunisia's economic difficulties, with high unemployment and uneven regional development, its social injustice, population pressure and the increasing political repression by Ben Ali's regime all created conditions conducive to irregular emigration. Although it is very difficult to know exactly how widespread harga is, official statistics show that after a fall in the number of interceptions at sea between 2009 and 2010, the phenomenon exploded in 2011. Since there are still grey areas, many questions have been asked, both in Tunisia and Italy. The political unrest which has gripped Tunisia since December 2010 has certainly led to a decline in economic growth, but its effect only became obvious a few months after the change of political regime. So what is the determining factor which caused this deluded desire that life is better elsewhere? How does one explain this mass emigration when it was thought that one of the main reasons for leaving was because Tunisians were deprived of their freedom?
With the “transition to democracy” there was a rapid growth of human rights associations in Tunisia. These campaigned partly to change the way policy makers saw the problem, partly to limit the pressures on the migrants. After the fall of Ben Ali, funding these associations became easier and the new climate of freedom allowed civil society to work openly to help those wishing to emigrate and to raise public awareness about those who were missing. The issue gets a lot of media coverage when families of the missing take to the streets or when the official statements after a major drama cast doubt on the transparency of Italian and Tunisian authorities.
Successive Tunisian governments have been caught between pressure from the European Union, which wants to continue with the existing bilateral agreements signed with the deposed regime, and their belief that they should negotiate a new framework for cooperation which would respect the dignity of Tunisian emigrants, thus sending a positive message to the general public, young Tunisians and the families of the missing. Although the timing is not the same, civil society's mobilization is not necessarily inconsistent with the government's long or medium term objectives. So is this an issue which unites Tunisians at a time when questions of divergence are multiplying?
 Since 2006 the term “irregular emigration” has taken precedence in European policy circles over “illegal migration”, still the legal term in the UK and current in the USA. An alternative is “undocumented emigration” [Trans.]
 In Arabic the literal meaning of the word harga is “to burn”. Figuratively it is used to mean the illegal crossing of the Mediterranean from the south to the north. See: MABROUK Mehdi, «El Harikoun, pour une approche socio-logique du milieu social des immigrés clandestins et de leur imaginaire », Revue tunisienne de Sciences Sociales, n°125, 2003, 15-49.
 According to the statistics of the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, border guards intercepted 1,492 Tunisians in 2007; 1,090 in 2008; 507 in 2009 and 499 in 2010
 See “Mission de formation. Programme d’appui à la société civile en Tunisie” in Rapport de diagnostic sur la Société Civile tunisienne, March 2012.
 There was an exchange of letters between the Italian and Tunisian governments on August 6th 1998 covering: bilateral cooperation to prevent and fight against illegal immigration; the re-admission of nationals from both countries; the immediate repatriation of nationals from a country other than those of the Union of the Maghreb; and the restitution of those re-admitted, Gazetta Ufficiali, n°11, January 15th 2000 (not published in the Official Journal of the Tunisian Republic). On December 13th 2003, an agreement guaranteeing improved border control was signed between the two governments and on January 28th 2009 another agreement was signed to make the extradition of Tunisians with no travel documents easier. On April 28th 2008 a Franco-Tunisian agreement was signed on joint management of migrations and cooperative development, available at www.ambassadefrance-tn.org. It should be noted that the Tunisian government has favoured bilateral agreements to wider agreements with the EU.
I. Haraguas and the missing sin...
II. The confusion of governmen...
Irregular emigration from Tunisia since January 14th 2011 and the issue of those missing Irregular emigration from Tunisia to the Italian coast, known in Tunisia as harga , developed during the early 1990's, when Italy, having ratified the Schengen Agreement, began demanding entry visas for Tunisian nationals. Tunisia's economic difficulties, with high unemployment and uneven regional development, its social injustice, population pressure and the increasing political repression by Ben Ali's regime all created conditions conducive to irregular emigration. Although it is very difficult to know exactly how widespread harga is, official statistics show that after a fall in the number of...
Ben Khalifa Riadh
Université de Tunis- Institut supérieur des Sciences appliquées en humanités