Tunisia: World Bank Pauses Loans as Fallout from Migrant Comments Continues

by | Mar 6, 2023 | Diplomacy, Political, Tunisia


On 6 March 2023, the World Bank suspended work with Tunisia “until further notice” after human rights organizations described President Kais Saied’s statements regarding immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries as hate speech. The President of the World Bank stated that “Saied’s speech caused racially motivated harassment and even violent incidents.” The institution temporarily postponed a meeting that was scheduled with Tunisia on March 21.

In mid-February, Saied said “urgent measures” should be taken to stop the flow of irregular migrants, stressing that this phenomenon leads to “violence and crimes” and is part of a “criminal arrangement to change the demographic composition” of the country. This led to some African countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Guinea, repatriating hundreds of their nationals.

Saied rejected accusations of racism against African immigrants and in turn announced a group of mitigating decrees: extension of legal residence periods, facilitating voluntary departures, and exempting those who have overstayed their visas from fines. The Ministry of Interior also announced plans for a helpline to facilitate services and provide information to foreign communities in Tunisia.

On Wednesday 8 March 2023, Kais Saied met with Omar Sissoko Embalo, President of Guinea-Bissau and the current President of the Economic Community of West African States. Embalo called Tunisia a country that always welcomes Africans and further explained that Kais Saied’s statements were misunderstood.


Despite some positive measures taken to protect the foreign community, the situation remains fraught with risk for migrants or those perceived to be migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa specifically.

As backlash against Saied’s comments included jeopardizing loan deals with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), economic risk in Tunisia will likely skyrocket unless serious repair work is done immediately.

It is likely that, in the medium-term, cooperation between the World Bank and Tunisia will return to normal, particularly given the measures taken to protect foreigners in the country. Our team will continue to monitor the fallout from Saied’s comments, particularly the impact on the security environment and Tunisia’s prospects for economic assistance in the future.


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