No more matches because the players of Tunisian football club AS Gerdimo have fled to Europe

No more matches because the players of Tunisian football club AS Gerdimo have fled to Europe

A refugee boat on its way to Lampedusa, illuminated by a floodlight from one of the NGO Open Arms’ lifeboats.Carlos Gil/Getty Image

A brown haze of sandy soil and stone houses with a bright green rectangle in the middle. This is where Gardimou looks like on Google Maps satellite imagery. The green artificial turf of the football field forms the heart of the community because football is the number one national sport in Tunisia.

But the ball is still in AS Ghardimaou. Excessive pressure forces the Tunisian amateur club to suspend training and withdraw from the competition. The club’s president told AFP on Monday that no fewer than 32 players have immigrated to Europe in the past three years. According to him, they traveled by sea or through Serbia, where Tunisians could go without a visa until recently.

About the author
Carlin van Esch is foreign editor at De Volkskrant. She lives and works in Sierra Leone.

The club says it cannot do enough for youngsters between the ages of 17 and 22. AS Ghardimaou plays at the highest amateur level, but has been in financial trouble for some time. The chairman said the players do not receive any fees, and “we cannot buy equipment, jerseys and sneakers”.

Professional goalkeeper

Footballers who play at the highest level also venture across. In February, Tunisian professional club AS Rejiche announced that their second goalkeeper had arrived in Italy by boat. Khalil Zawli, 19, stated that the reason for his emigration was “the club’s financial difficulties.”

Tunisia is a popular starting point for African immigrants trying to travel to Europe. The reason: Less than 150 kilometers of sea separate Tunisia’s long coastline from the Italian island of Lampedusa. However, things often go wrong this way as well. And there have been seven shipwrecks since the beginning of March, leaving dozens dead.

In the first three months of this year, 12,000 people have already emigrated from Tunisia to Italy. Increasingly, it is wandering people from Tunisia itself – rather than sub-Saharan Africa – who venture across. More than half of the 32,000 migrants who arrived in Italy from Tunisia last year hold Tunisian citizenship.

Economic and political crisis

The hopes of the Arab Spring in Tunisia have long been dashed. The North African country is going through a huge economic crisis and seems to be slipping back into dictatorship under President Said. Inflation, food shortages and unemployment mean that many young people no longer see a future in their country and so look to Europe.

Gardimou is located in northwest Tunisia, near the border with Algeria. It is a poor area, where almost everyone works in agriculture. So many young people have left this area that a town of over 20,000 can no longer continue to operate a football club.

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