Marginalisation, insecurity and uncertainty on the Tunisian–Libyan border

Ben Guerdane and Dhehiba from the perspective of their inhabitants

Ben Guerdane and Dhehiba, two border towns in southeast Tunisia, provide the only official border crossings to Libya.

Both are marked by regional disparities, despite their different modes of engagement in the national and cross-border economies, and are subject to a stigmatising national discourse, which conflates borders and border regions with smuggling and terrorism. This prevailing discourse, shared by the Tunisian government, donors and the media, ignores the reality, needs and expectations of people living along the border.

From the end of 2015 to spring 2016, International Alert undertook research aimed at understanding the situation in Ben Guerdane and Dhehiba from the point of view of the people living there. The methodology combined quantitative and qualitative fieldwork, which resulted in more than 700 people being interviewed in the two cities. This is the first such primary, field-based research of its kind to be carried out in these two locations. It provides an analysis of the Tunisian transition from the viewpoint of its border areas.

The research found that feelings of marginalisation (tahmîch) now shape the self-image of people in Ben Guerdane and Dhehiba, with almost 90% and 98% of inhabitants, respectively, reporting a strong sense of exclusion. This echoes a history of marginalisation of Tunisia’s southern regions and from the colonial period to the present day, resulting in a bitter sense of injustice, voiced by many of the inhabitants.