Alaa Touil, 23, a cultural journalist whose dream is to promote tunisian culture beyond the country’s borders, had an official invitation from an algerian Association to participate in a two-day workshop organised by the Oran province in collaboration with the University of Bordeaux.
Following the Tunisian government’s travel restrictions aiming to prevent locals under 35 years old from joining extremist groups abroad, Alaa carried with him all the necessary documents, including his father’s authorization.
The workshop aimed at reinforcing socio-cultural exchange among Maghreb countries, giving the floor to young professionals as well as experts, all together participating in group brainstorming activities. Three people were selected from Tunisia and except Alaa, they all managed to pass the borders, traveling by car a few days earlier during the Eid celebration.
Alaa was traveling on the 21st of July by louage (collective taxi) from Tunis, expected to reach the city of Annaba in Algeria. However, once he arrived to Tabarka, nearby the tunisian-algerian borders, he was stopped by Tunisian officers and was forced to wait in vain for more than 2 hours.
According to the young man’s testimony:
“After 45 minutes of inaction, an officer started posing questions:
-What are you doing in your life?
-I am a journalism student in the University of Manouba. I am a young cultural promoter and member of the civil society.
The officer in question didn’t know what ‘civil society’ means.
Then I had to wait anew for 20 minutes before another officer arrived only to address me exactly the same questions.
I gave them my passport, the parental authorization, my travel insurance and the invitation from the Association in Oran.
After another long hour, a three-star officer told me: ‘We cannot put the stamp in your passport’.
I asked why and he gestured with contempt. I insisted and a man in plain clothes approached me:
‘Look my brother, we cannot do anything. You know…it’s terrorism’.
They suggested me to take the plane but I explained them I could never afford that.
I asked them politely to contact my father, to contact any Ministry involved.
The fourth officer who came, said: ‘You want to go to Algeria? You won’t. Get lost!’
They never treated me with respect or professional manners. The louage driver had to move on after having patiently waited during these two hours. The rest of the passengers were Algerians.
Therefore, I found myself in the middle of nowhere, unable to assert my rights or even return home.
The only solution was to hitchhike and luckily, I found someone who was traveling alone towards Tunis.
I missed a great opportunity to learn, exchange ideas, acquire more experience in my field and enrich my skills. Why?
I felt imprisoned in my country and I was filled with anger. What does it serve to be blindly strict and the state not to respect its own laws since I had all the documents it requires? Is Tunisia becoming North Korea?”
A significant number of similar complaints by young men and women is being recorded after the attack in Sousse on the 26th of June and the subsequent travel measures imposed to Tunisian citizens, strongly criticized by human rights organizations as abusive and arbitrary.