Tunisia’s “border burner” longs for Europe in Sfax


This week it is ten years since the deposed strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, the first to fall when the Arab Spring of 2011 took over North Africa and the Middle East. But since 2017, the number of illegally arriving in Italy from Tunisia has increased sharply. Tired of waiting for the revolution to benefit them economically at home, some risk everything to try to reach Europe. Jowhargives you the second part in a series of four reports this week from Tunisia, a decade after the dawn of the Arab Spring.

In the Tunisian port city of Sfax, the so-called “harragans”, literally “border burners”, are willing to do anything to reach Europe and try the dangerous journey several times if necessary. One said to FRANCE 24: “In my country I am as good as dead. I barely live, so I am not afraid of death.” Sfax is a strategic place, he explained, the closest point to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Young people from Sfax gather regularly to buy passages from a smuggler.

A Tunisian smuggler told Jowharthat he had no other choice. He says it would take him 20 years to earn 5,000 dinars in Tunisia, while a smuggling trip could earn him 15,000 dinars.

FRANCE 24’s Karim Yahiaoui and Mohamed Farhat have this report from Sfax, presented by Peter O’Brien. To watch, click on the video player above.