(CNN)Several sub-Saharan countries, including Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea and Gabon, are helping their citizens return from Tunisia following controversial remarks from the country's president last month concerning illegal immigration into the North African country.
In a meeting of Tunisia's National Security Council on February 21, President Kais Saied described alleged illegal border crossings from sub-Saharan Africa into the country as a "criminal enterprise hatched at the beginning of this century to change the demographic composition of Tunisia."
Saied said the continuous illegal immigration aims to turn Tunisia into "only an African country with no belonging to the Arab and Muslim worlds," adding that the ones behind this scheme are involved in human trafficking.
The African Union strongly condemned the statements by the Tunisian government, calling them "racial" and "shocking."
"The Chairperson reminds all countries, particularly African Union Member States, to honor their obligations under international law and relevant African Union instruments to treat all migrants with dignity, wherever they come from, refrain from radicalized hate speech that could bring people to harm, and prioritize their safety and human rights," the AU said in a statement on February 24.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast said 145 citizens will be repatriated on Saturday, the state Ivorian Press Agency reported on Friday.
Mali also announced the voluntary repatriation of its citizens from Tunisia, according to a Thursday report by state newspaper L'Essour. Meanwhile, Guinea posted images on Twitter of junta leader Col. Mamady Doumbouya welcoming returning Guineans at the airport in Conakry on Saturday and last Wednesday.
The Gabonese embassy in Tunisia said many migrants from sub-Saharan countries no longer feel safe in Tunisia and offered to repatriate its citizens, who have until Sunday to register for voluntary repatriation.
In another speech on February 23, Saied maintained there is no racial discrimination in Tunisia and said "our African brothers residing in Tunisia legally" are welcome in the country.
Tunisian authorities arrested 58 African migrants on Friday after they allegedly crossed the border and resided illegally in the country, state news agency TAP reported on Saturday.