Ahmed, 30, could not find a job that provided a decent living for himself and his elderly parents. The pittance he earned from selling traditional shoes in the old quarter of Tunis was barely enough to meet rising prices.
He decided, a few months before the outbreak of the Tunisian Revolution in 2011, to leave Tunisia by travelling through a network of smugglers who transported refugees across the Mediterranean.
After arriving in Italy, Ahmed was met with a difficult life in a country suffering from its own economic crises. He continued on to Switzerland and then to Germany, where he surrendered himself to authorities and applied for political asylum to finally gain legal status.
Race for identity before deportation
Ahmed was placed in a tiny village with no access to language courses or other services and, feeling isolated, he left the asylum centre to which he was assigned and moved eastward. There he met a young German woman and fell in love. Two years later, the couple wanted Ahmed to gain legal status and decided to get married. But proving his identity turned out to be more difficult for Ahmed than reaching Europe. Like many other illegal immigrants, Ahmed had thrown away his documents. “I got rid of my ID in order not to be deported to Tunisia and I am now unable to get married or get asylum,” he says.
After a German court rejected his asylum application, Ahmed appealed. Like other Tunisian asylum seekers, he is preoccupied with finding a solution to evade the German government’s decision to deport him back to his country following a German-Tunisian agreement reached on 3 March, which accelerates the deportation of 1,500 Tunisians whose asylum cases have been denied.
Under the agreement, Tunisian authorities must verify the identities of Tunisians sent by the German authorities in no less than 30 days and the must former send the needed documents within one week of identity verifications.
After a visit to Tunisia last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised USD 250 million in aid to help develop Tunisia’s marginalised areas in exchange for accelerating the deportation of Tunisians living in Germany “illegally.”
Fear of deportation and racial profiling
All of Ahmed’s attempts to get a new ID and go through with his marriage procedures failed. More than six months ago, he applied to get a new passport from the Tunisian embassy in Berlin, but he has not yet received a response.
Ahmed threatened to burn himself in front of the embassy’s headquarters if he was not granted a passport to be able to get married and accelerate the procedures of getting residency before being deported. He also tried to contact many MPs representing the Tunisian community, but his attempts to make his voice heard have failed. He says he has lost faith in the government and the representatives of the Tunisian parliament abroad.
Some Tunisians in the same situation as Ahmed describe the agreement between the German and Tunisian governments on immigrants as a “collective punishment” after the 2016 cases of sexual assault in Cologne by North Africans and a terrorist attack in Berlin, perpetrated by a Tunisian national. Other Tunisians say that the policy of “automatic rejection” of asylum applications prevent them from integrating into German society.
Sami Sharshira, a German politician of Moroccan origin and a founding member of the Muslims Work Group in the Socialist Democratic Party, says: “The German federal government is convinced that the immigrants from the Maghreb countries, especially Tunisia, are a threat to Germany’s security and social peace.”
He adds that after the events in Cologne and Berlin, the grip on young immigrants from the Maghreb has tightened, and security checks of Tunisian young men have increased.
Germany’s ability to receive and integrate immigrants has been argued amongst parties for the past few months, especially after the flow of thousands of refugees over the last three years.
The far-right parties, Sharshira adds, accuse German Chancellor Angela Merkel of importing “social unrest.” These parties use the card of young refugees from Maghreb, especially Tunisia, most effectively to pressurize and mobilize the media and public. They depend on security reports on the crime rates among refugees, which show that the refugees coming from the countries of North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria) “commit most of the crimes compared to other nationalities.” Only 3% of asylum applications coming from the North African area have been accepted since the federal government classified the Maghreb countries as safe.