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Tunisia’s young risk everything for work

As in other countries across North Africa, unemployment in Tunisia is high, especially among the young and some will risk everything in order to find work.

Many young men hope to enter Italy illegally. And since the revolution last year, numbers have increased dramatically, with reduced patrols by Tunisia’s security forces. But the dangers of heading for Italy in overcrowded boats are all too real. A few weeks ago, a fishing boat packed with well over 100 people sank 12 miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies around 70 miles from the Tunisian coast. Only 56 of those on board survived.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly half of all migrants landing on Lampedusa come from Tunisia. A crackdown by Italian authorities, means that many are forcefully repatriated back home. Despite this, young Tunisian men are prepared to keep trying in order for the chance of finding work in Italy. One such young man is 21-year old Walid. Having earned a low wage from agriculture in Tunisia, he made the dangerous boat trip but was arrested and sent back home, because he didn’t have any papers. Now unemployed, he plans to find the 1,000 Tunisian dinars (around 400 pounds) necessary to try again. Speaking to the BBC’s reporter, the 21 year-old said “I’m not afraid. I’m already dead here”.

The lack of opportunities in Tunisia drives many young people to acts of desperation. The most famous recent example was Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in December 2010, sparking the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings. Though the new government and political system have brought hope to many in Tunisia, sadly many of the young feel disappointed about their prospects following the revolution. According to a survey by the Tunisian National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has risen from 13% in 2010 to nearly 18% now.

Many more young men will therefore travel down the coastline for Sfax, the nearest city to Lampedusa, to pay for passage on one of the many fishing boats which attempt the journey to the Italian island at night. Some will make it and may go on to find passage to the mainland. But some will not, like 25 year-old Sofien, who is believed to have been on board the boat which sank a few weeks ago. Since he went missing, his family and other families have been protesting for information about their loved ones outside government buildings in Tunis. His sister tells the BBC that in her dreams, “he’s alive and telling us that he’s ok”, but she knows the reality is probably far different. (See a discussion of illegal emigration from Algeria, in the feature on the SOS Our Africa site at http://www.our-africa.org/algeria/haraga)

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