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Tunisia 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

Near East > Tunisia > Tunis

Tunisia 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

Overall Crime and Safety

The U.S.Department of State rates Tunisia a medium threat country for crime.  The most common criminals are pickpockets, purse-snatchers, and similar thieves who primarily work in high traffic tourist areas such as the Tunis Medina and central market area, as well as the medinas of other large Tunisian cities.  Beach resorts and nearby towns experience a mix of vehicle break-ins, pick pocketing, and scam attempts due to the large number of tourists, especially during the summer months.  Target selection tends to focus on persons who appear unfamiliar with their surroundings, those who are dressed in expensive or western style clothing, or otherwise draw attention to themselves.  Visitors to Tunisia are advised to guard their possessions carefully when riding public transportation. Leaving any item of value unattended, whether at the beach, in a public place, or in a vehicle in plain sight, can potentially make that item the target of petty theft.

Thieves, usually male, will sometimes target western women walking alone and then rob them (day or night) once the opportunity presents itself.  Pairs of young men on motor scooters will purposely target individuals walking on the street, one man driving the scooter while the second attempts to grab a handbag, cell phone, camera, or other valuable item as the two speed by.    Although vehicle break-ins are frequent, theft of vehicles is rare.

Burglaries occur with regularity, but do not exclusively focus on the expatriate community.  Since most burglaries are crimes of opportunity, a well secured home is often enough for the criminals to move on.  With this in mind, many middle class Tunisian families have taken measures to improve their residential security by installing grill work over windows and doors.  Residential break-ins often occur during the day when homes are unoccupied, although break-ins while the home is occupied are not unheard of.  It is best to keep doors and windows locked, even while the home is occupied.  While many residences in Tunisia are surrounded by walls, this will not deter a thief from entering a property.  This is especially true when items of value are left out in the yard or garage areas.  Lawn furniture, bicycles, tools, and children’s toys are often stolen from enclosed properties. 

It can be assumed that home burglars are prepared for confrontation, but are generally not predisposed to it.  Although criminals are prepared to be confrontational, most generally avoid violence.  For the most part, burglaries or other crimes of stealth are usually committed by a thief who is unarmed or armed with non-lethal weapons.    

Violent crime remains relatively rare in the affluent areas where most expatriates reside.  The majority of crime reported by the Tunisian media, including violent crime, occurs between people who are acquainted in some way.  However, the U.S. Embassy notes a rise in aggressive criminal activity in recent months.  Muggings have occurred during daylight hours in upscale neighborhoods; in some cases these encounters have turned violent when the victim tried to resist. 

As in most countries, it is safe to assume that a significant percentage of crimes go unreported. It is illegal to possess a firearm without the approval of the Tunisian government.  The government will only allow approval to carry a firearm in the most extreme circumstances.  See below for more on the presence of firearms in Tunisia.  

If you are the victim of a crime, immediately report it to the nearest police station.  The Tunisian police are generally omnipresent at high traffic areas and beach resorts during the summer tourist season. They do have some success in arresting criminals when provided a good description of the perpetrator(s).  American citizens should also report criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy.

Police Response

Tunisian police are well trained and professional.  Many senior police officials have received advanced training in Western Europe or the United States.  In an effort to maintain its image and protect Tunisia’s tourism industry, the police are generally very responsive to visitors in need of assistance although in the period since the revolution there have been some reports of delayed or inadequate police responses, especially in rural areas.  Police presence is particularly high in tourist areas and other areas frequented by foreigners.  The Tunisian police often set up check points after hours.   Dual citizens originally from Tunisia are typically recognized as Tunisian citizens. All visitors to Tunisia must adhere to local laws at all times. 

The National Police provide security in major urban areas and the paramilitary National Guard is responsible for other areas including the nation’s roads.  Police and National Guard officers are generally responsive to the needs of visitors, but speak limited English, if any at all.

Crimes should be reported immediately to the nearest police officer/station.  Hotel desk clerks, store owners, shop keepers, and taxi drivers can direct you to a police officer or summon one for you. 

Nationwide emergency numbers:

Police:                                    197

National Guard:                     193

Fire Department:       198

Ambulance (SAMU): 198

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

By law, Tunisian police officers can, and do, conduct random traffic stops.  Drivers and passengers are required to show their Tunisian identity card or resident’s permit, and vehicle registration.  Visitors to Tunisian should always have a copy of their passport on their person in addition to the immigration card all visitors complete when entering the country.  You will need the small perforated card when you exit through Tunisian immigration.  Foreign visitors who are briefly detained by the Tunisian police are encouraged to remain cooperative and patient.  This will assist in expediting a quick resolution to an arbitrary police stop.  Insulting or arguing with the police is illegal and people have been imprisoned for it. 

Road Safety 

The most significant safety threat a visitor to Tunisia faces is the indigenous style of driving.  Local drivers rarely look before changing lanes, commonly run through red lights, use road shoulders and turning lanes to pass, drive against the flow of traffic for shortcuts, and can be generally oblivious to other vehicles on the road.  Uniformed traffic police are located at major intersections throughout Tunis and other major cities.  Police are known to pull vehicles over for speeding, reckless driving, or to check identification papers of the driver or passengers.   These police check points are common throughout the country.

Due to the safety concerns listed above, short-term visitors are discouraged from self driving.  Visitors and residents alike should always wear seatbelts and are strongly encouraged to bring an approved car seat for infants and other young children.  Infant and child car seats are difficult to locate and expensive to purchase in Tunisia.

If you do choose to drive in Tunisia, practice good defensive driving skills.  Ensure sufficient braking distance between your vehicle and vehicles in front of you.  Remain alert that pedestrians may be in the median or shoulder and choose to cross the street in disregard to approaching traffic.  This is especially dangerous near bus stops and shopping areas.  When stopped at traffic lights, beware of pedestrians crossing between waiting cars.  Motor scooter drivers will often drive near the right shoulder of the road and may not be easily visible. 

Vehicle accidents in Tunisian often attract a crowd of onlookers, but these crowds seldom become violent or angry.  Drivers involved in traffic accidents are not required to file a police report unless there are injuries as a result of the accident.  In accidents involving injury, all injured persons must be transported to the nearest medical facility and must file an accident report as soon as possible.  Most Tunisian medical facilities have police on site to facilitate the reporting process.  In vehicle accidents that do not involve injury, drivers must complete and sign the ‘constat amiable’, which is then forwarded to each driver’s insurance agency for resolution.

Drivers should be aware that if they are involved in a vehicle accident which results in the death or serious injury of another person, the Tunisian police may take them into protective custody until they are absolved of responsibility.  This could mean spending a period varying from one day to two months in protective custody.  As with any arrest or detention overseas, Americans taken into custody should immediately request that the police inform the American Embassy of their whereabouts.

An alternative to self driving is taxis which are generally safe, cheap, and reliable.  The Tunisian government regulates taxis and requires that their drivers be licensed and use meters.  Do not enter a taxi already carrying passengers and do not allow your driver to pickup additional individuals.  If you feel that a taxi driver is not using the meter properly, charging extra fees, or taking advantage of you, write down the taxi number and inform the police.  Tourism is important to Tunisia’s economy and the police will enforce the law and arrest dishonest drivers. 

Another alternative to self-driving are the trains.  Trains in Tunisia are generally safe.  Travelers should refrain from boarding any train that is overcrowded to avoid pickpockets.  Visitors to Tunisia are discouraged from using buses.  Buses can be extremely overcrowded, are not well maintained, and there have been several instances of women reporting that they have been harassed.  Private and charter buses are better maintained and will usually limit the number of passengers.     

Political Violence

Tunis Since the Revolution

Tunisia has experienced unprecedented social and political change following the ouster of former President Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. General elections for a Constituent Assembly, which were peaceful and transparent, took place on October 23, 2011, and a new government assumed office on December 23. The moderate Islamist Ennahda party has formed a governing coalition with the liberal Congress for the Republic party and the left-leaning Ettakol party. Ennahda’s second ranking party official, Hamadi Jebali, has become prime minister, and Ennahda leads key ministries such as interior, foreign affairs, and justice. With a government now in place, the Constituent Assembly is focused on drafting a new constitution.

Transnational Terrorism

The Embassy is unaware of any acts of violence perpetrated in Tunisia against American interests, public or private, as a result of the war on terrorism or related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In April of 2002, Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing of a synagogue on the island of Djerba.  20 civilians were killed in this attack. 

In December 2006 and January 2007, the government of Tunisia announced that Tunisian security forces disrupted a terrorist group, killing or capturing many members of the group.  According to the Tunisian government, this terrorist group planned to carry out acts of violence in Tunisia.  According to official reports, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis was among the intended targets.  In December 2007, 30 individuals were given varying sentences for their involvement in these events.

Since the revolution there have been occasional threats to American or Western interests in Tunisia. In August 2011 it was reported that extremists had possibly identified staff of international aid organizations as potential targets for kidnapping. Since then, other threats have occasionally surfaced, which have not been validated or carried out, indicated terrorists may be planning operations against targets in Tunisia with U.S. affiliations. The Embassy and the Tunisian MOI take all such information seriously and in all cases the Tunisian security services have responded to the reports.

Regional/Indigenous Conflict

Tunisian security forces have noted the increased availability of small arms and other weapons in Tunisia throughout 2011. There have been occasional clashes between armed groups, mainly in the south, resulting in casualties and the declaration of temporary curfews. In a September 21, 2011 incident, Tunisian military aircraft exchanged fire with a convoy of unidentified armed vehicles crossing the desert south of Douz, in the Governorate of Kebili. The incident underscored the need for U.S. citizens to carefully consider all travel in the interior and to avoid travel in remote regions in the south of Tunisia. 

Following a November 30, 2011 shooting incident at the Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya, the Tunisian government temporarily closed the border; it reopened on December 22. Nevertheless, because of the security situation in Libya, the Ras Jedir and Dehiba border crossings may be closed from time to time. Travelers should consult with local authorities before travelling to the border between Libya and Tunisia.

The U.S. Embassy in Tunis reminds all Americans to maintain a high level of vigilance in regard to their personal safety and to remain aware of local developments.  Suspicious incidents should be immediately reported to local police and the U.S. Embassy. 

Civil Unrest

One year after the revolution, the security situation in most tourist and business centers remains calm, but political protests, sit-ins, work stoppages, roadblocks, and other public disturbances still occur. Demonstrations have degenerated on several occasions into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. While demonstrations have not been directed toward foreigners, visitors are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. Visitors are strongly urged to avoid all demonstrations, as even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse.

Since the revolution, Tunisia has witnessed increased activity by ultra-conservative Islamists. Salafist activists forced a major Tunis university to shutter its doors for several weeks when they began a protest against the university’s prohibition on female students wearing a full face veil. In another incident, Salafists chanting slogans including “Crush the Jews” greeted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at the Tunis airport in early January 2012.  Both Tunisia’s small Jewish community and the Ennahda party condemned the display and asserted the important role of Tunisia’s Jewish citizens.  There have been allegations that a small group of Salafists tried to set up their own Islamic courts in Sejnane in rural northern Tunisia.

Post-Specific Concerns

U.S. businesses or American citizens living in or visiting Tunisia should be aware that English is not widely spoken.  Individuals without the ability to communicate in French or Arabic will find conducting personal or professional business difficult.  Women face no specific dress restrictions, but conservative clothing helps avoid attracting undue attention or harassment. Some incidents of verbal and physical harassment are reported.  The U.S. Embassy recommends against responding physically to incidents of harassment due to the risk of escalating the situation.  Most incidents end quickly if the perpetrator is ignored or reported to a nearby police officer.

Use and possession of illegal drugs and drug trafficking are serious offenses in Tunisia.  Since the Revolution, Tunisian police report an increase in the number of drug seizures. Persons arrested for drug related crimes can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia and can be punished by imprisonment.

Possession of pornography in Tunisia is illegal and can also lead to imprisonment. 

Many multinational express delivery services can provide service to Tunisian addresses through the Tunisian ‘rapid poste’ system.  Tunisian Customs routinely opens express mail for inspection.  While the U.S. Embassy knows of no cases of theft or loss of material related to express mail delivery, American business representatives should be aware of the possibility of review or loss of corporate proprietary information when using these services. 

There are no known private security firms that have trained personnel who can provide executive protection services to visiting business persons.  Additionally, the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior does not allow its police officers to act in this capacity while off duty.  The U.S. Embassy is unaware of any private security or law firms who are licensed to conduct private investigations in Tunisia. 

Environmental Hazards, Such as Earthquakes and Floods

Tunisia is considered to be in an active earthquake zone. Some buildings may not meet U.S. construction criteria for such an area.

During the winter months, extended downpours have been known to overwhelm Tunis’s storm drains and result in the flooding of streets.  The city can become effectively shut down due to washed out roads as alternate routes become overburdened by diverted traffic.

Travel in the desert areas of southern Tunisian requires research and planning.  Many roads are unimproved and even travelled routes are subject to extreme wind and blowing sand that can create hazards for vehicles.  Persons choosing to drive off the major paved roads are encouraged to ensure that their vehicles are appropriate for off-road driving conditions and are equipped with appropriate equipment and supplies, including water and food.  The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons travelling into the desert to register their travel beforehand.  Permits are required for certain regions.  For details on how and where to register, please visit the U.S. Embassy desert travel page at: http://tunisia.usembassy.gov/desert-travel.html

Medical Emergencies

Medical care in Tunisia is adequate with a number of new private ‘polyclinics’ available that function as simple hospitals providing a variety of procedures.  Specialized care or treatment may not be available.  Medical facilities that can handle complex trauma cases are virtually non-existent.  While most private clinics have some physicians that are fluent in English, French is primarily used by the medical establishment.  Public hospitals are overcrowded, underequipped and understaffed.  Nursing care in all clinics is very underdeveloped and in some cases nonexistent.

Well equipped ambulances may not be available outside of urban areas.  Even in urban areas, emergency response times will be much longer than in the U.S.  Doctors and hospitals will expect immediate cash payment for health care services, although some hospitals may accept credit cards.  Some over the counter medications are available.  Travelers should bring a full supply of medications needed on a regular basis.  The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of doctors who can be contacted for emergency prescriptions. 

Contact information for local hospitals and clinics

The U.S. Embassy assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of or the quality of services provided by the medical professionals, medical facilities or services listed below.  Names are not listed in any particular order. 

Private ambulance services

Allo Docteur-Allo Ambulance, Tunis: 71-780-000, 71-781-000,

71-780-884, 71-841-979

Echifa, Tunis: 71-585-999, 98-243-552

Amen, La Marsa-Ambulance, LaMarsa:  71-749-000

Apollo Ambulances, Tunis: 71-843-434, 98-358-916

Private medical clinics ‘polyclinics’

Tunis metro area:

LaSoukra Clinic: 71-758-888, 71-758-666

Polyclinic El Amen de LaMarsa:  71-749-000

Clinic El Manar: 71-800-211, 71-783-343

Centre d’Assistance Medicale Urgente, Montfleury: 71-341-807

Clinique Hannibal: 71-137-500

Outside of Tunis:

Nabeul:  Clinic Ibn Rochd: 72-286-668

Sousse:  Clinic des Oliviers: 72-242-711

Sfax:  Clinic Annafis: 74-215-000

Bizerte:  Clinic Raouebi: 72-440-200

Djerba:  Clinic Chifa: 75-500-411

Gafsa:  Clinic Ennakhil: 76-210-750

Other medical resources: 

CAMUR:  Centre d’assistance Medicale Urgent et Reanimation (poison control), Tunis: 71-335-000

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Common sense and good security practices are the best way to ensure an incident free visit.  Remaining aware of your surroundings and carefully guarding your personal belongings will assist you in avoiding becoming a victim.  Treat the cities of Tunisia as you would any major city in the U.S.  For example, travelers should be wary of unsolicited offers of assistance and refuse offers that sound too good to be true.  Presenting a positive, confident attitude is one of the best ways to avoid crime. 

There are currently no travel restrictions in Tunisia.  Visitors should be extra cautious in high traffic tourist areas such as the Tunis Medina and central market area, as well as the medinas of other large Tunisian cities.  Keep your purse or bag in a place where you can see or feel it. Do not hang it over the back of a chair, place on the floor or hang on the door when in the restroom. Be aware of distraction techniques such as a staged fight or an intentional bump. Avoid carrying your wallet in your rear pocket.  Use a front pocket, inside jacket pocket or money belt.  Do not use a jacket pocket if you are likely to take the jacket off. Carry a minimum number of credit cards and cash.  Put them in separate pockets.  Carry your purse or shoulder bag over your shoulder with the opening toward your body.  Snatch and run tactics include speeding by an unsuspecting pedestrian on a scooter and grabbing a dangling purse.

Further Information

Embassy contact information:

U.S. Embassy Tunis, 1053 Les Berges du Lac, Tunis, Tunisie

If dialing from abroad, the Country Code for Tunisia is +216.

U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisa:                       71-107-000

Regional Security Office:                             71-107-341 or TunisRSO@state.gov

Consular Section:                                         71-107-000 or ConsularTunis@state.gov

Economic and Commercial Office: 71-107-000 or TunisCommercial@state.gov

OSAC Country Council

Tunisia does not currently have an OSAC country council.  Security questions and request for more information may be directed to the Regional Security Office at the contact number and email address listed above.