For youth in Tunisia mining region, it’s ‘mine or die’

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A worker gestures at a phosphate production plant in Kef Eddour, in the Metlaoui mining region, one of the main mining sites in central Tunisia, after workers restarted production after a month-long strike, on March 8, 2018. (AFP)
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Unemployed Tunisians sit at a phosphate production plant in Kef Eddour. (AFP)
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A view of the Metlaoui phosphate production plant on March 8, 2018, in the Metlaoui mining region. (AFP)
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Mothers of unemployed Tunisian men sit at a phosphate production plant in Kef Eddour, in the Metlaoui mining region. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2018
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For youth in Tunisia mining region, it’s ‘mine or die’

METLAOUI: Dozens of unemployed youths camp out around phosphate mines in central Tunisia, demanding jobs as part of a wave of protests aimed at focusing attention on alleged state neglect.
The surge in anger is the latest in the North African nation’s mining region, where one of the country’s highest unemployment rates and a stark lack of infrastructure have fueled regular unrest.
The most recent confrontations broke out at the end of January, with demonstrators frustrated over hiring practices blocking work for six weeks.
Among the grey dunes of phosphate at the Kef Eddour quarry near the town of Metlaoui, 10 women and about 50 young men — sons and grandsons of miners — eat and sleep in a few prefabricated cabins.
“The phosphate company is the only thing here, we have no development, no jobs,” said Ali Ben Msalah, 25, who has been unemployed since finishing high school.
“For us, the solution is either emigration, death or prison.”
Next to him, Souad Smadah, 60, the daughter and wife of miners, nods as she warms couscous and tea over a fire for the young protesters.
She is angry that none of her five sons have managed to find work at the phosphate mines, accusing businessmen and trade unions of prioritising their relatives when hiring.
Smadah’s eldest earns 300 dinars ($125 or 100 euros) a month in a bakery, almost three-times less than a starting salary at the mine.

'Little Paris'

Metlaoui is rich in phosphate, a highly sought after ore used to make fertilizer of which Tunisia is the world’s fourth largest producer.
Boasting a swimming pool, cinema and tennis courts, it was once nicknamed “Little Paris.”
Today, however, the town’s jobless youth loiter along cratered roads, their teeth yellowed from polluted water.
The Gafsa Phosphate Company (CPG), a state monopoly, has long been the main source of jobs and income for the region.
Decades of corrupt or absent authorities sparked mass protests around the mines in 2008 that were brutally repressed by dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
His fall in a 2011 uprising which sparked the Arab Spring upheavals sparked hope of change.
But there has been no sign of improvement and a combination of lack of investment, skilled workers and unrest has even seen output nosedive.
“Since the revolution, we can no longer produce the desired tonnage,” said CPG’s general secretary, Ali Khmili.
The company, which used to produce up to 8 million tons a year, barely extracted 4.2 million last year.
The most recent disruption to the mine’s work began in January after the series of demonstrations and riots, fueled by price and tax increases and persistent unemployment, broke out in the region and across Tunisia.
Adding to the tensions are looming municipal elections scheduled for May, with legislative and presidential elections set for 2019.
In Gafsa, the heightening of political tensions has complicated negotiations with the protesters, paralysing production earlier this year.
The halt in work was “essentially linked to a lack of trust” between residents and the government, according to Rabeh Ahmadi, an activist with the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), an NGO specializing in social issues.
The government eventually demanded legal action and suspended some 1,700 hires in progress in an attempt to quell the unrest.

Unhappy residents

Mining slowly resumed this month and ministers were dispatched to the region last week. But residents unhappy with solutions proposed by the government have continued to disrupt production.
They say it is the only way to force those in power to pay attention to them, as phosphate is crucial to reaching the government’s target of three percent growth
CPG, which is running at a deficit largely because of recurring unrest, has not contributed to the state budget since 2011.
And some at the company warn that by targeting the phosphate output the demonstrators could end up just hurting their region even more.
“The protesters’ claims are legitimate, there is a total absence of the state in this area,” said Rafiq Smida, an CPG engineer and advocate for the phosphate industry.
“But if work there is blocked, 32,000 jobs are at risk.”


Israel gives Bedouin villagers until end of month to leave

Updated 57 min ago
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Israel gives Bedouin villagers until end of month to leave

  • Israel’s supreme court on September 5 rejected appeals against demolition, allowing authorities to move ahead
  • ‘No one will leave. We will have to be expelled by force’

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities issued a notice to residents of a Bedouin village in a strategic spot in the occupied West Bank on Sunday informing them they have until the end of the month to leave.
The fate of Khan Al-Ahmar has drawn international concern, with European countries calling on Israel not to move ahead with plans to demolish it.
Israel’s supreme court on September 5 rejected appeals against demolition, allowing authorities to move ahead.
Israel says the village was built without the proper permits, though it is extremely difficult for Palestinians to receive such permission in that part of the West Bank.
The notice given to the some 200 residents of Khan Al-Ahmar on Sunday says they have until the end of the month to demolish the village themselves.
“Pursuant to a supreme court ruling, residents of Khan Al-Ahmar received a notice today requiring them to demolish all the structures on the site by October 1st, 2018,” a statement from the Israeli defense ministry unit that oversees civilian affairs in the West Bank said.
It did not say what will happen if they refuse to do so. Village residents vowed not to leave despite the notice.
“No one will leave. We will have to be expelled by force,” said village spokesman Eid Abu Khamis, adding that a residents’ meeting would be held later on the issue.
“If the Israeli army comes to demolish, it will only be by force.”
The village is located in a strategic spot east of Jerusalem, near Israeli settlements and along a road leading to the Dead Sea.
There have been warnings that continued settlement building in the area would eventually divide the West Bank in two, dealing a death blow to any remaining hopes of a two-state solution.
Israeli authorities have offered alternative sites for Khan Al-Ahmar residents, but villagers say the first was near a rubbish dump and the latest close to a sewage treatment plant.