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Country Reports

Tunisia Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Traveling to the North African country of Tunisia, located in the southern Mediterranean (population 11 million), is generally relatively safe. However, travelers should remain vigilant due to the risk of terrorism. A number of cities and governorates have unstable security environments. Travelers should exercise additional caution while traveling to areas outside of Tunis and the coastal region, and remain alert to local security developments.  

TERRORISM

There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnapping, particularly in the border regions and the Chambi mountain range. Terrorist attacks have previously targeted Tunisian government and security forces and well as tourist sites. In March 2015, the Bardo National Museum in Tunis was attacked by militants, resulting in the death of 21 people, most of whom were European. In June 2015, 38 people were killed in a mass shooting at a Sousse coastal resort. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for both attacks. On November 24, 2015, an attack also targeted a bus carrying members of the Presidential Guard in Tunis's city center.

A number of militant Islamist groups are present in the country, particularly in mountainous regions in the northwest, including Katibat Uqba bin Nafir (affiliated with Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM]), Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia (AST), and IS-affiliated Jund al-Khilafah. These groups maintain a low-level insurgency and mostly target security forces in the western interior region, particularly the mountainous ranges of Kasserine, Kef, and Jendouba governorates (which include Jebel Chambi, Semmama, and Selloum). As a result, security forces regularly conduct search and destroy operations in the area. Since the beginning of 2017, government operations increased in the Kasserine region, where many militants were arrested or killed by security forces.

There is a heightened security presence at the borders with Libya and Algeria due to fears of spillover militant activity and the risk posed by continued fighting in Libya. The desert south of Remada is designated as a military zone by the Tunisian government. If travelers wish to enter the military zone, prior authorization is required. An attack on the southeastern border town of Ben Guerdane on March 7, 2016, by IS-affiliated militants, which resulted in the deaths of 12 Tunisian security officials and civilians, has augmented fears over Tunisian nationals and foreign fighters returning from abroad via the porous border with Libya.

An ongoing nationwide state of emergency, in place since June 2015, has repeatedly been renewed and will continue through at least March 12, 2018. Under the emergency laws, authorities can ban strikes and meetings that might provoke or cause disorder, temporarily close theaters and bars, and secure control over the press and all types of publications.

SOCIOPOLITICAL UNREST

Travelers should be aware that political demonstrations and protests are regularly organized throughout the country, and are advised to avoid all protests and areas where large crowds gather. Tunisia continues to face economic challenges, including significant unemployment and poverty rates, especially among the youth in rural governorates. Civil unrest is particularly common in the interior governorates, including but not limited to Kasserine, Gafsa Sidi Bouzid, and Medenine (particularly in the border town of Ben Guerdane). Demonstrations have previously become violent and have resulted in clashes with security forces. In January 2016, violent protests occurred in Kasserine city (Kasserine governorate) after the death of a student during a previous demonstration.

In April 2017, a protest movement began in Tataouine where unemployed youth demanded more jobs and an end to the perceived immunity of foreign oil companies operating in the area. Many oil company sites were then blocked by protesters, with the authorities responding by sending security forces to protect the sites.

POLITICS

Tunisia is considered to be only country in which the Arab Spring was successful. In 2011, mass protests unseated incumbent leader Ben Ali, inspiring popular uprisings across the region. Since the 2011 revolution, the country has seen significant political progress, with major institutional achievements in a relatively short period of time. In 2014, the country wrote a new constitution, backed by broad consensus. This paved the way for successful legislative and presidential elections held in October and November 2014, the first democratic ballots since the country's independence in 1956.

The elections resulted in a transition of power from Ennahda, the Muslim democratic (formally Islamist) party that led the country in the interim period between 2011-2014, to the secular Nidaa Tounes party, with Beji Caid Essebsi becoming president. This political transition concluded with the formation of a new unity government in early February 2015, led by Nidaa Tounes, Ennahda, and other smaller parties including Afek Tounes, Machrouu Tounes, the Free Patriotic Union (UPL), and the Initiative Party. In August 2016, Youssef Chahed, a little-known member of Nidaa Tounes, was announced as the new Prime Minister.

Despite some disruption to the governmental coalition, notably in December 2015 when 32 Nidaa Tounes MPs resigned due to internal disputes, the unity government has experienced relative stability. However, divergent loyalties within the government, combined with the need for deep economic reforms over the coming years, suggest a potential for future political instability.

CRIME

While theft, muggings, and pickpocketing occur in Tunisia, more violent attacks are relatively rare. Travelers should take sensible precautions to protect themselves and their belongings. Reports of harassment targeting foreign women, including uninvited physical contact, are on the rise. Women in particular should maintain a general level of personal security awareness, and avoid traveling to secluded areas alone, particularly at night.

TRANSPORTATION

Road safety throughout the country poses significant risks to foreign travelers due to erratic driving habits. There is little adherence to the rules of the road, including a lack of lane discipline and awareness of right of way. Roads are generally in good condition throughout the country, but driving conditions can deteriorate quickly after periods of heavy rain. Roads in rural areas are less maintained. According to the Ministry of the Interior, more than 7100 road accidents (resulting in 1400 deaths and 10,000 injuries) were recorded in 2015. Travelers may come across security checkpoints (particularly near border areas), and are advised to approach slowly. Be prepared to present proof of identity if required, and comply with requests. Demonstrations can occasionally impact road travel.

Travelers should exercise caution when using public transportation due to safety and security concerns. Rail travel is generally safe, although safety standards tend to be lower than those in European and North American countries. It should be noted that travel via train between Tunis and Algiers (Algeria) is often unreliable due to political and security issues. Visits to the Sahara Desert require prior authorization from authorities. Developments in Libya continue to affect the security situation at the ports of entry at Ras Jedir and Dehiba, along with the cities of Ben Guerdane and Medenine. The Libyan border is frequently closed to all traffic for extended periods with short notice. Travelers are advised to avoid all travel to and through the Libyan border without necessary security provisions. 

The UK government has announced that passengers flying non-stop to the United Kingdom from Tunisia will be banned from transporting any electronic device larger than a standard-sized smartphone (16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm / 6.3 in x 3.5 in x 0.6 in) in carry-on luggage. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players, and video games, which will have to be stowed in checked luggage for the duration of the flight.

LEGAL

Travelers should note that it is strictly prohibited to take Tunisian dinars out of the country. All remaining dinars should be exchanged for another currency prior to departure. To do so, travelers must present the bank receipt they received when they originally withdrew the dinars. Receipts from ATMs (including cash machines at banks) will not be accepted.

A form of photo ID (e.g. a passport photocopy) should be carried at all times and shown to police if requested. It is against the law to photograph government offices and military or other security facilities.

As the majority of the population is Muslim, it is advised to adopt a respectful attitude. Women in particular should dress modestly and cover their head if entering a mosque. It is advisable to be particularly sensitive during the month of Ramadan (taking place in 2017 from May 27 to June 25). Not all restaurants serve alcohol, and no alcohol is served during Ramadan outside of tourist areas.

Travelers should be aware that homosexuality is a criminal offense in Tunisia, with penalties including sentences of up to three years in prison, and sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

HEALTH

Travelers are advised to take out an insurance policy to cover medical fees as well as medical evacuation prior to departure.

Medical facilities are considered satisfactory in major population centers, especially Tunis. However, the quality of care offered at medical centers in rural areas is often below European/North American standards. Medical costs can be high and payment is often required in advance.   

Travelers to Tunisia are advised to bring any medications or other essential items they might need during their stay. Prescription medicines should be carried with a medical note confirming that the medication has been prescribed for an existing condition.

Diarrheal diseases are common in Tunisia and it is advised to not drink the tap water.

There are cases of animal rabies.  It is advised to avoid contact with both domestic and wild animals (bites, scratches, licks). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Climate

The weather during the spring months is pleasant throughout the country, with periodical showers in the north. Temperatures in the Sahara region are higher but nights are cool. In the summer, ocean winds lower temperatures along the coast. Inland in the south of the country temperatures tend to be very high. Temperatures in autumn are more pleasant and the first rains of the season come in November.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +216 Police: 197 UAS: 190 SOS Doctors: 71 744 215 Ambulance: 71 725 555 or 599 900

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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