Hiba Safi is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
The Libyan conflict is not only causing tens of thousands of deaths, destroying a society, and wiping out a state. It also is spilling over into neighboring Tunisia, destabilizing its internal equilibrium, redefining cross-border interactions, and affecting all neighboring countries in the Maghreb.
Since the uprising against President Muammar Qaddafi in March 2011, Tunisia has seen a vast influx of Libyan refugees. Cars, decrepit vans, and trucks packed with families sitting among bundles of belongings, suitcases, and mattresses stream into Ras Jedir and Dhehiba – official border crossings in southern Tunisia.
According to the former Tunisian Minister of Commerce, the country hosts around 1 million Libyans—equal to nearly 10 percent of the Tunisian population. Libya’s crisis and the ongoing entry of Libyan refugees into the country has resulted in unprecedented social, economic, and security challenges to Tunisia. Despite these difficulties, Tunisia has thus far maintained an open border policy toward Libyans and Libya’s Egyptians seeking respite from the violence in Libya—a decision that’s been praised by UN officials and Western diplomats.
No effective regulatory framework defines the relationship between the two countries, “They don’t need [a] visa to enter Tunisia nor any particular authorization to reside [in Tunisia],”stated Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui.
Tunisia bears the brunt of the economic and social spillovers of the Libyan civil war. The 43-mile border (Ras Jedir in Libya and Ben Guerdane in Tunisia) has become a smuggling route for goods, oil, and arms, but also for anti-regime armed groups and terrorists. Moreover, the conflict next door has exacerbated inter-communal conflicts raging within Tunisia domestically.