Since last year Helpcode has been working to protect the rights of minors along migrant routes, where children and women pay the highest price in a situation of profound vulnerability. For this reason, in January 2017 we decided to open a coordination office in Tunis, out of which the new operations in North Africa will be managed and humanitarian interventions in Libya will be coordinated.
Tunisia, at the centre of the Arab Spring in 2011, is going through a new period of protests and dissatisfaction. For months now several Tunisian cities have seen violent protests against the new austerity measures imposed by the government, which is being accused of increasing taxes on fuel, real estate, the internet, foodstuffs and other consumer goods. The country was the first protagonist of the Arab Spring and the expectations for the beginning of a new historical phase were very high. However Tunisia is once again in a phase of uncertainty. The hope of a rapid democratic transition – especially if we look at what happened in Libya and Syria – appears today to be less and less certain. The hopes for greater social justice and improved socio-economic conditions for the population have gradually faded. The increase in migratory flows is also a factor to be taken seriously into consideration, in fact Tunisia from a transit country has become a starting point for thousands of people who, driven by instability, decide to leave in search of fortune elsewhere.
A recent study by the Institute for International Policy Studies (IIPS) shows that the protests we are witnessing in these weeks are more dangerous than those of 2011: because the hope and enthusiasm that animated that season of change have been replaced by disillusionment and anger for a development that has not undertaken the hoped-for trajectory.
Discontent fuelled by the persistence of numerous problems for the country, such as: unemployment, now estimated at 15.3% and increasing; a labour force employed in the informal sector, strong regional disparities to be bridged and rapidly growing inflation that generates a depreciation of the dinar against other currencies.
We have witnessed an appreciable increase in guarantees in the field of civil rights of the population, but this is accompanied by a worrying growth of the phenomenon of the radicalisation of young Tunisians. A phenomenon that has found new technologies and social media to be important dissemination tools of aggressive propaganda in favour of radical Islamist movements. To demonstrate this, European Union research shows how Tunisia is one of the countries that sends the most messages on social media in support of organisations like ISIS.
There are many who fear that in the absence of real change, the situation could degenerate again and quickly.
Helpcode has started working in Tunisia with a project funded by the European Union that has the objective of promoting the role of young people and women in peace education initiatives, within a broader plan for preventing violent extremism. This approach is part of the international strategy of fighting against radicalism using education as a tool to prevent violence and religious extremism. The approach is based on Global Citizenship Education, for teaching young students respect for human rights, social justice, gender equality and environmental sustainability as fundamental values. These prevention efforts increasingly involve the family, the community and the media.
In Tunisia we are working together with the numerous women’s associations that are committed to promoting peace every single day. We believe it is essential to strengthen local groups and networks to promote gender equality, combat discrimination and build a culture of peace that starts with citizen participation. To this end we have begun a partnership with the Tunisian organisation IDH (International Centre for Human Development), composed almost exclusively of women, which has a consultative role within the national platform for the fight against terrorism.
We are also working to combat cyber bullying and the spread of incitement to hatred (hate speech) on the internet and on social media through positive messages that promote substantial changes for individuals at greater risk of radicalisation.
Finally, our work is concentrated in the suburbs of Tunis and in the Tataoine region, in the south of the country, areas identified as priorities for increasing the capacity of young people and women to become key actors for positive change and strengthening their resilience and that of the entire community to violent extremism.