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Looking for dignity elsewhere: Tunisian youth fleeing the birthplace of the Arab spring

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Frustration in Tunisia is growing especially among the youth who remain marginalized even though they were the ones who ignited change.

Meriem Dhaouadi
9 September 2012

The influx of Tunisian illegal immigrants to Lampedusa in Italy about 80 miles (120km) from Tunisia still increases a year and a half after the toppling of the Ben Ali regime. The death toll from one hazardous night venture recently has hardly discouraged around 100 people from embarking on the journey since then. In the early hours of Friday, several dozens of people went missing when a fishing boat loaded with illegal immigrants sank off the tiny island of Lampedusa. One of the immigrants lost his life.

In 2011, around 50,000 North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans made it to South Italy. People smugglers have profited from the lucrative business especially at the peak of the turmoil and lack of security that accompanied revolutions in Tunisia and Libya.

The Arab Spring seems to push people further away from their homelands. Tunisia is one of the relatively stable countries that made a smooth transition towards electing a new government, yet many people are disenchanted with the bitter reality: no jobs, no freedom, no dignity and a no nearer hope on the horizon.

Frustration in Tunisia is growing especially among the youth who remain marginalized even though they were the ones who ignited change. The situation is even worse in the interior regions with a poor infrastructure and lack of basic services and facilities. Says Sofiane as he prepares to make his sixth attempt to date to leave Tunisian shores, “Being food for the fishes is much better than living a hellish life of poverty. They promised us more jobs, a bright future, and prosperity during the elections but now they have proved they are no better than the former regime of Ben Ali and his mafia».

“I feel ashamed when I ask my mother for a hand-out. She gets into trouble with my father who blames her for helping me out. You know in our culture manhood is intricately related to making money. My father says all the time that I bring shame to the family. “He is not a man” - I have heard this phrase several times. I want to prove him wrong. I want to settle down in Italy, get a job and get back to Tunis every year with a car and a lot of presents for my family and my friends”, says Karim, a young man with a university degree who has been unemployed for almost four years.

Europe plagued by high levels of unemployment and a hostile attitude towards illegal immigrants is still full of allure for many Tunisians driven by a dream of Europe as a paradise.  The lowly life that quite good number of Tunisians lead in Europe, where climbing the social ladder Is likely to be tougher than in the USA for instance, and backbreaking jobs are the norm for Africans, is even worse for the recently migrating job seeker.

The government should take responsibility in fulfilling their promises of development and defend Tunisian human dignity which is one of the pillars of human rights. The Tunisian people have had enough of the dark ages under dictatorship and now will not tolerate being manipulated and belittled after they have changed the course of history. Dignity and equality are two fundamental stepping stones that should be guaranteed in Tunisia so Tunisians can restore their faith in their country.

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