In view of the increasing number of migrants and their life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean, the EU and Tunisia have decided to cooperate even more closely on the issue. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the heads of government of the Netherlands and Italy and Tunisia’s President Kais Saied announced the signing of a corresponding declaration of intent on Sunday in Tunis. This means that the EU Commission can initiate financial aid of up to 900 million euros for the economically ailing country in North Africa.
Italy’s prime minister pushed for a deal
A good month ago, EU politicians were in Tunisia for talks to negotiate the deal. In return for the financial aid, Tunisia is to take stronger action against people smugglers and illegal crossings in order to reduce the number of people leaving for Europe. The Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in particular pushed for an agreement to stop the migrant boats leaving Tunisia early on on their way to southern Italy and thus to the European Union.
“We have a good package. Now it’s time to implement it,” said von der Leyen, referring to the declaration of intent. Saied said: “We are determined to implement them as soon as possible.” When it came to migration, he spoke of an “inhuman situation” that had to be solved collectively. The EU Commission wants to make a good 100 million euros available for search and rescue operations and the repatriation of migrants. This corresponds to three times the amount with which Brussels supported Tunis last year on average.
One of the main transit countries for migrants
Tunisia is one of the most important transit countries for migrants on their way to Europe. In Italy in particular, the arrival of thousands of migrants has been discussed for some time. This year, migration figures via the Mediterranean route increased massively. By Friday alone, the Ministry of the Interior in Rome counted more than 75,000 boat migrants who had arrived on Italy’s coasts since the beginning of the year – in the same period last year there were around 31,900.
“After a lot of diplomatic work, we have achieved a very important goal,” said Meloni. The memorandum enables “integrated management of the migration crisis”. She also hopes for further similar agreements with other North African countries. A migration conference is also planned for next Sunday in Rome, in which Saied and other heads of state and government in the Mediterranean region are to take part.
IMF demands reforms from Tunisia
The MoU is an important step forward in the negotiations. Before the money can flow to Tunis, however, an agreement must also be reached from another side: a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Tunisia in the amount of 1.9 billion dollars is pending because President Saied has not made a binding commitment to the for it wants to make the requested reforms.
Saied announced tougher action against migrants in February and accused them of bringing violence and crime into the country. Since then, hostilities and racist attacks have increased. In the coastal town of Sfax, there were clashes, some fatal, between migrants and residents.
Tunisia is suffering from a severe economic crisis
Critics accuse Saied of concentrating on expanding his power and not on solutions to the country’s severe economic crisis. After the EU criticized his expansion of power, the relationship was recently tense. Saied also ruled out letting his country become a border police force for Europe. Tunisia’s government is also critical of the long-term settlement of migrants in the country. Many Tunisians fear that this could be the result of an EU deal.
One of the most important election promises made by the ultra-right Meloni was to keep the many Mediterranean migrants from North Africa from the southern Italian coasts. But the fact that this year more than 2022 arrived puts them under pressure. It is therefore very important to her to win over Tunisia as an ally for the new European asylum policy. She repeatedly suggested paying Tunis – similar to what the EU had agreed in a deal with Turkey in 2016 – to consistently prevent the migrant boats from leaving for Italy.
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