Tunisian ambassador renews call for Britain to lift travel ban
London - Tunisian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Nabil Ammar renewed calls for the British government to lift its travel ban on flights to Tunisia, a measure that has been in place since the June 2015 terrorist attack in the eastern Tunisian city of Sousse.
“Eighteen months after the tragic events at Sousse, we think it is more than time to at least adjust the travel ban,” Ammar said. “There has been a lot of change in terms of improving security and so it’s past time now to readjust this travel ban, which is not only hurting the tourism sector but also affecting the image of our country.”
Since the attack, Tunisia has adopted stringent anti-terrorism measures, including the review of security procedures at hotel and travel installations. They announced the dismantling of many jihadist cells and the prevention of a number of attacks.
“There is a gap between what the advice is saying and the reality on the ground in Tunisia,” Ammar said.
The British Foreign Office has advised against “all but essential travel” to Tunisia since the attack at the Sousse beach resort, which resulted in the death of 38 tourists, including 30 Britons. A state of emergency, which has been extended numerous times, remains in effect in Tunisia. It is set to end on January 19th, although many observers expect it to be renewed again.
“The threat from terrorism in Tunisia is high. Further attacks remain highly likely, including against foreigners. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other locations,” the Foreign Office warned in a statement.
“Although we have had good cooperation from the Tunisian government, including putting in place additional security measures, the intelligence and threat picture had developed considerably, reinforcing our view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely.”
Ammar said that, given the current international climate, there can be no travel destination that is 100% safe from a terrorist attack.
“There is nowhere where it is zero risk. Is there any need for me to recall what happened in Paris or Turkey or Brussels?” he said. “So it is not a technical question. It has more to do with political courage, long-term vision and solidarity.”
“What we are saying is that there has been a lot of progress and the level of threat is comparable to any big city in Europe, including London,” he added.
Ammar’s views echo comments issued by Tunisian Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub, who recently visited London. “The threat exists everywhere. The question is: Do you trust the Tunisians or not?” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
“We are not saying to Europeans: ‘Please come to Tunisia; there are no threats’. There are threats, as there are all round the world, but we are ready to cooperate continuously on any security issue to assure the British and to ameliorate the situation and build confidence in us,” Majdoub said.
Spain and Sweden recently lifted their travel bans to Tunisia but restrictions continue to apply in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium. Despite facing such restrictions, Tunisia has sought to make up for the shortfall of tourists from elsewhere, particularly neighbouring countries and newer markets such as Russia and China.
China’s National Tourist Administration said that four times as many Chinese tourists visited Tunisia in 2016 than in 2015, owing largely to rising income levels and easing of visa requirements, meaning more Chinese tourists than ever before are travelling abroad.
“This is good but it should not be at the cost of other tourists,” Ammar said. “We want to add more people coming and visiting Tunisia. We want to improve our tourist sector. Tunisia is a beautiful country, a land of culture and communication, and we want this identity to endure.”
Ammar, who is originally from Sousse, said the most important thing is not the effect on Tunisia’s tourist economy but the global struggle against terrorism.
“By this travel ban, we are only fulfilling the terrorists’ objectives,” he said. “They want Tunisia to be cut off [from the rest of the world]… If we really want to fight against terrorism, we should say, ‘Yes, we are here. You will not win.’”
As for his message to British tourists, historically among the most numerous visitors to Tunisia, Ammar said: “On the same beaches our blood — Tunisians and Britons — were mixed to fight against Nazism. Today, it’s almost the same kind of struggle.
“For those who know the country, we know that you love our country as the country loves you so the real challenge today is to increase understanding between our people and to improve communication. I believe, very much, in communication at the level of peoples. We need to work together to overcome this challenge.”