Brain drain and illegal immigration in Tunisia:
Bleeding from both sides

Afraa Maiza, Tunisia

What is wrong with your shores, Tunisia, so that your children die searching for other shores?

Death boats

Death boats, the name given to the boats that carry illegal immigrants on board. Boats carrying young people at the age of flowers, with their dreams, aspirations and hopes. But these are boats that don’t give life as much as they hope. These are boats that carry inevitable death, if not for all, then for the thousands of them.

Those young people who illusory thought that the future was on the shores of Europe, but the sea told them another story… It loved their meat and the taste of their sorrows.

“The boats of death passed through here and will continue to cross between us.”هجرة-الموت

The national survey of international migration in Tunisia, which was carried out during one week in 2021 by the National Institute of Statistics in cooperation with the National Observatory of Migration, revealed that about one million and 700 thousand Tunisians wish to emigrate, most of them being young, educated and unemployed people aged between 15 and 24. (1)

Reasons for illegal immigration

Despite the fantasies of death that float around the issue of illegal immigration and the bad conditions that immigrants live in, clandestine immigration travels continue to cross the Mediterranean periodically, carrying hundreds of young people trying to reach from Tunisia to the European side of the sea, fleeing difficult economic and social conditions.

This phenomenon in the era of globalization has become documented through social networks, which deceived hundreds of young people to take this dangerous path.

The president of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Massoud Ramdani, indicated that the situation in Tunisia today and the economic and political crises have directly affected the social situation, saying, “There is no longer any conviction that the future will be better. There is no serious dialogue with young people to convince them of their role in building Tunisia, the absence of youth participation in everything related to the country’s future, there are no respectable and up-to-date youth roles that absorb the potential of young people, all of these are reasons that push young people to take risks instead of staying in Tunisia without work.”

In an interview with Sky News Arabia, the activist Najla Ben Arfa considered that “young people are fleeing the economic situation in search of a better life through immigration,” adding that “the youth segment was not taken into account in the state’s policies.”

She explained: “In addition, the high rate of school dropouts at an early age, and the absence of young people’s care through cultural and sports institutions, in the absence of an economic path that creates wealth and whose focus is the citizen and his social conditions”, are all factors that drive the departure from Tunisia.”

Brain drain

Brain drain is another hemorrhage that threatens Tunisia: Tunisia ranks second among the eight countries of the Arabic world in exporting brains abroad, right after the war-torn Syria,

While a large part of young people chose to migrate through “illegal” methods, another part chose secure and legal methods. While thousands of Tunisians arrived on the Italian coasts via death boats, thousands of Tunisian talents who chose to leave Tunisia for many reasons arrived in Europe and America.

In some countries, including Tunisia, a brain drain is a real challenge to health care systems. Since 2011, the pace of movement of Tunisian health workers, especially doctors, has increased due to deteriorating working conditions, restricted career paths and uncertainty about the future. Europe, particularly France, Canada, Germany and the Gulf countries, are the main destinations for Tunisian immigrants, partly explained by cultural aspects involving Arabic and French and similarities to the French model of medical education (2).

The migration of Tunisian talents abroad did not exclude any field or specialization, but rather included almost all fields. The financial concern and working conditions are at the forefront of the concerns of the Tunisian talents who left the country.

Professor of Sociology at the Tunisian University, Mohamed Hajj Salem, says that the reasons are deeper than being materialistic only, but go beyond that to the environment in which Tunisian competencies work, in various disciplines, whether engineering, medicine or human sciences, expressing this by the scientific community that he described It deteriorates, and does not give the competencies their due value, does not provide the appropriate conditions for production, and its production is not employed for the benefit of the national group. He added that the shelves of libraries in universities are full of research, in addition to the thousands of patents that are registered and remain confined to the walls of universities and research centers (3).

Competencies in Tunisia feel bitterness and frustration, so they prefer to emigrate in search of better conditions and a prestige that they lack in their country, pointing out that European countries recognize the researcher and the sociologist, and are keen to employ his productions to solve societal crises.

Brain Drain

While waiting…

In the face of continuous bleeding from both sides, the government is helpless, especially with the signs of a new political crisis erupting. Rescue teams are trying to save as many migrants as possible, and at the same time the political parties continue consultations to avoid another political crisis.

Most young people believe that once decent job opportunities are provided and more attention is paid to them, and they are convinced of the need to stay to contribute to building the future, provide entertainment for young people, modernize the role of culture and youth, and most importantly involve them in political work, the pace of migration will decrease significantly.

While waiting for radical solutions from the state, young people continue to dream of reaching the coasts of Europe, waiting to improve the standard of living, combat corruption and establish a political life capable of accommodating young people. They are waiting in Western countries for a change that may or may not come.

“Tunisia is a beautiful country, but running a beautiful country badly makes it bad”


  2. Labidi.L (2020). Brain drain of Tunisian competencies: The case of health professionals. European Journal of Public Health, Volume 30.