Tunisia football club shuts after players head to Europe
A Tunisian football club said Tuesday it had suspended activities after 32 of its players illegally emigrated to Europe.
“We’ve halted activities and suspended our matches,” the fourth-division Ghardimaou club’s president Jamil Meftahi told AFP on Tuesday, blaming “clandestine emigration”.
Over the past three years, 32 of the club’s players have emigrated to Europe, he said.
Tunisia is in the grip of a long, worsening economic crisis that has pushed many of its citizens to take desperate measures in search of better lives abroad.
The Ghardimaou players, aged between 17 and 22, “either left by sea or went via Serbia then illegally crossed the border into other countries”, Meftahi said.
Until November last year, Tunisians had been able to travel to Serbia without a visa, giving thousands of people an alternative to potentially deadly boat crossings in the Central Mediterranean, the world’s deadliest migration route.
Those heading for the exit have disproportionately come from marginalised areas such as Ghardimaou, an inland rural district near the Algerian border but far from Tunisia’s coastal economic hubs.
Meftahi blamed players’ “lack of financial means” for their departures.
“We can’t afford equipment, shirts or shoes, and the players aren’t being paid,” he said.
Parts of the Tunisian coast are within 90 miles (150 kilometres) of the Italian island of Lampedusa, and thousands of people — Tunisians and citizens of sub-Saharan African countries alike — have attempted the crossing already this year.
Rome’s interior ministry says more than 14,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year — significantly more than the 5,300 who had arrived over the same period in 2022 and the 4,300 during 2021.